HIGHLAND HOUSING: Collaborate to address crisis urges Skye MP

Sought-after Skye Picture, Willie Urquhart

Ross, Skye, and Lochaber MP Ian Blackford has urged Highland Council chiefs to join discussions aimed at tackling the housing crisis affecting communities throughout the Highlands.

In a letter to Highland Council Chief Executive Donna Manson and council leader Margaret Davidson – co-signed by local councillors – the MP has outlined his serious concerns about the availability of housing for those who wish to live and work in the area.

He has pressed Highland Council to engage with the Scottish Government to examine all practical steps to ensure the effective and efficient sale of existing properties that does not freeze out long-term residents.

Mr Blackford said: “Demand for second homes being bought from the present stock of housing is a factor in the rising cost of properties in the areas and, in many cases, rules out the opportunity for local young people to compete in this market.

“Area-specific solutions” required, said Ian Blackford. Pic Willie Urquhart

“We have also seen the increased availability of short term lets through platforms such as Airbnb which is shifting the balance of housing usage in many areas. 

“Tourism is an integral part of our life in the Highlands and plays an important part in our economy – but it has to be sustainable, and it has to be managed.”

The SNP Westminster Leader continued: “There will be various area-specific solutions for trying to alleviate the situation to enable our population to flourish – especially in some of our more remote areas – while also allowing our main areas of population to grow and attract inward investment. 

“In turn, this would enable us to keep our young people in the Highlands and attract families to the area.”

Citing Highland Council’s pilot assessment of Short Term Let Control Areas in Badenoch and Strathspey, the MP has called on the council to extend the pilot assessment to include Fort William and Ardnamurchan, Wester Ross, Skye, and Lochalsh.

The move follows a meeting hosted by Lochaber Chamber of Commerce, where members expressed concern about the lack of available housing for employees which is impacting on the ability to recruit and retain staff. 

The Chamber is conducting a Housing Needs Analysis aimed at collecting robust data about the impact of the housing shortage.

Issues being looked at include access to suitably priced land, the relaxation of crofting legislation in certain conditions to enable housebuilding; getting major house building players to commit to developments on the west coast; and streamlining the protracted planning process.

Ian Blackford said that all the resources at hand from within the Scottish and UK governments – including recourse to changes to legislation and monetary requirements – should be available to help those facing such issues in the Highlands.

He added: “We would like to look at areas such as vacant housing. Given that there are approximately 3000 empty premises in the Highlands, we would invite consideration of a change to the existing legislation to force or enable these premises to come back onto the market, especially on our high streets.”

Article by ADAM GORDON