Call for new Highlands and Islands housing authority to help tackle homes crisis

Call for new Highlands and Islands housing authority to help tackle homes crisis

Portree on the Isle of Skye

A new housing authority for the Highlands and Islands would help improve access to affordable housing across the area and retain and increase the population, according to Professor Jim Hunter.

Writing in the Press and Journal, Professor Hunter has suggested the new authority would be charged with building thousands of new homes.

The former chairman of Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) said “nothing is more desperately needed” today than action to solve the housing crisis.

He suggests the new body should have the ability to acquire land at the lowest price.

It could even have the right to take ownership of up to 1% of properties with more than 500 acres.

This could involve private, community and public sector landowners who would be paid compensation for land used for housing.

Rents would be similar to those charged by councils or housing associations and secure occupancy would be guaranteed, he said.

Tenants could later buy their property, but no housing authority homes could be taken out of local use, preventing them from becoming second or holiday homes.

Professor Hunter suggests the authority will need a budget of hundreds of millions of pounds. Funding from the government could be supplemented by borrowing against future rental income.

“Like the new town corporations that, back in the 1940s and 1950s, built towns like Cumbernauld and Glenrothes, a Highlands and Islands Housing Authority might invest in a range of homes and small apartment blocks.

“And as in the freeports now under consideration, planning controls might be modified to ensure that housing authority developments couldn’t be held up for more than weeks.”

He said initially the authority could concentrate on the west and north coasts, the Hebrides and Northern Isles, with younger people given priority.

Three areas of the Highlands and Islands are being earmarked by the Scottish Government as ‘repopulation zones’ to help tackle people loss.

Action would be focused on the Outer Hebrides, Caithness and Sutherland and Argyll and the Isles, with housing on top of the agenda.

Prof Hunter argues there is precedent in using special measures to respond to Highlands and Islands issues.

This includes legislation in 1886 that ended the Highland Clearances by granting crofters security of tenure, in 1919 to help build new crofts, in 1943 to create the Hydro Board, and in 1966 to establish the Highlands and Islands Development Board, now HIE.

“What was done in 1886, 1919, 1943 and 1966 was done by Liberal, Conservative and Labour politicians,” he said.

“Time perhaps for the SNP ministers who have been in charge at Holyrood since 2007 to bring something of that same commitment to the business of bettering conditions in the north.”

The Scottish Government said it is working with partners to deliver affordable homes across the Highlands and Islands and the rest of Scotland.

A spokesman said: “We are now delivering against our commitment of 110,000 affordable homes by 2032, of which at least 70% will be for social rent and 10% in remote, rural and island communities.

“We are also developing a Remote, Rural and Islands Housing Action Plan to bolster this work.”

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