A developer who has outlined plans for a new housing scheme on Skye has said the homes will be offered to those showing an interest first, and at a fixed price.
Last week the Free Press revealed proposals by London-based developer Charlie Garton Jones to build 16 family homes in Portree on the site of the old golf course off the Struan Road.
The plans, if approved, will comprise 11 three-bedroom houses, and five four-bedroom houses, each with a garden and drive, situated on a site of around five acres in total.
Mr Garton Jones lodged a planning application with Highland Council in late April this year, and hopes to provide homeowners with an ultrafast one gigabyte broadband connection free of charge for the first five years via the excess capacity the Bracken Hide Hotel will have from the nearby BT exchange.
If given the green light, the scheme will be built on land next to where the developer is constructing his 45-cabin hotel, which is scheduled to open in April 2022.
Mr Garton Jones runs an independent estate agency specialising in the sale and rental of residential property in London, which has offices in Westminster, Nine Elms, Chelsea and Battersea.
He also owns the Cow Shed boutique bunkhouse in Uig.
The Free Press report on Mr Garton Jones’ proposals has sparked a heated debate via the paper’s Facebook page over the last few days, attracting more than 80 comments.
Although opinions differed on the appearance of the houses, the main point of contention centred on whether the homes would be affordable and accessible to local people.
Peter Brown commented: “The local community should have the final say. Personally I would think social housing should be a priority.”
While Helen Grianan said: “Will these houses be £170,000 or under? If not, they are not affordable housing for locals or key workers.”
Calum J Morrison from North Uist was in favour of the scheme saying: “Sounds like a good type of thing in my opinion, the dude seems to know what he’s doing, good luck to him I say!”
Annie B Campbell, meanwhile, highlighted broader issues with housing on the island, stating: “Key workers, like some NHS and teachers, are being outbid for most of the houses that come on the market in Skye.
“They are not ‘officially’ homeless so do not have enough points to qualify for council housing.
“Some are forced to skip between illegal short term lets. This is not simply a locals versus incomers issue.
“Key workers coming to fill essential jobs on the island and local families need somewhere to live. There is a very real housing crisis.”
Mr Garton Jones said the price of the houses could not be confirmed until planning permission was obtained.
However, in the last few days, he took to social media to try to address worries that people on the island will be priced-out of buying the properties.
“There has been a lot of focus on the larger family house we are hoping to build but 11 of the 16 houses we are building are smaller, three bedroom, houses,” he commented.
Kevin McMahon simply asked: “Will there be a first refusal for locals and the children of local families?”
In response, Mr Garton Jones said: “I am happy to confirm that the properties will not be sold via the Scottish ‘sealed bids/offers over’ system but will be sold at a fixed price on a first-come, first-served basis.
“Obviously until we have planning, we cannot sell the houses, but we have opened up a ‘waiting list’.
“Eight people who read about the development in the Free Press, which is the only place the houses have so far been mentioned or advertised – have emailed me to express their interest in the houses.
“Many of them do, indeed, appear to be locals, although we will not be checking birth certificates as part of the sales process.”
He added: “There are 16 houses in total, so if you would like your name added to the list, please email me via firstname.lastname@example.org
“The first 16 names will be offered ‘first refusal’ if/when the houses are sold.”
Gaelic communities are “missing out” says Staffin campaigner
ADAM GORDON spoke to 20-year old Staffin resident Chisolm Campbell, one of the founding members of the campaign group Iomairt an Eilein which was set up to amplify the voices of young people on a range of matters such as housing, jobs and Gaelic culture.
Chisolm talked about his own chances of finding a home, questioned the effectiveness of the Highland Council in its current form, and underlined the importance of investing in smaller communities on the island.
“I am living with my parents, and with my work I am fortunate to still live on Skye,” he said.
“Saying that, I haven’t taken any steps to purchase a home as the prices do not justify the property, or are just too expensive.
“I know people who have taken steps to purchase but were outbid either at the start or last minute.”
Chisolm has worked for CalMac since 2017 and says he has thought about moving to the Western Isles due to his poor prospects of finding a home on Skye.
He said: “I have strong family connections to Lewis and Harris, and I might have the possibility of moving across as house prices haven’t been affected as much as on Skye in terms of second homes and holiday homes. However, it is now on the rise as on other neighbouring islands.”
Chisolm believes a revamp of the local authority is needed to force meaningful change.
“Skye is facing issues linked to the lack of investment and communications. That makes me question why are we governed by people in Inverness and not the people of Skye and the surrounding islands.
“I look at the Western Isles, and I’m seeing housing developments across the islands in different areas with the goal of helping local people stay where they are from, sustaining school numbers — including Gaelic communities — and helping small areas grow.
“That should be critical here and not just developing in Portree. Roads, housing, harbour investments are just a few aspects that link together and time is critical.”
He added: “It’s very important for young people and young families to stay on the island with the support of affordable housing, whether that’s purchasing or renting.”
Chisolm said he had been encouraged by responses to Iomairt an Eilein’s call to action.
“Political responses ahead of the election have been very welcoming and we are grateful for the support,” he added.
Last week, the Free Press reported on plans to build a new 16-home private scheme on the outskirts of Portree.
Commenting on the merits of the proposal, Chisolm said: “I welcome the new development in Portree, I’m sure many young people and families from Skye will benefit from these if they are available at an affordable price.
“That being said, I do question why we’re only developing in Portree. I can name many schools in surrounding communities that would benefit from even a half of a development like this.”
Painting a stark picture of the difficulties facing townships such as Staffin, he said: “Smaller communities are missing out and our school numbers and Gaelic communities are suffering. This should be a wake-up call to our government and ‘our’ council that more housing investments in rural areas will have more of an impact and better outcomes.
“We all have a right to articulate our viewpoints and opinions. Not everyone will agree but that’s what makes a community – having different voices for the benefit of our island.”