Scotland’s National Islands Plan addresses housing and fuel poverty problems

The Scottish Government has released its proposed National Islands Plan which provides a framework for action to improve housing and mitigate fuel poverty in Scotland’s island communities.

The plan is one of the first provisions of The Islands (Scotland) Act 2018 which introduces several measures to underpin the Scottish Government’s key objective of ensuring that there is a sustained focus across government and public sector to meet the needs of island communities now and in the future.

From April to July 2019, there was a wide consultation on what was important to islanders and through that process, it was identified that a range of issues needed to be addressed in order to achieve the Scottish Government’s objective of improving life on Scotlands Islands.

The consultation process highlighted that the availability of affordable, fit-for-purpose housing on Scottish islands presents a challenge for island communities.

The plan revealed that the Scottish Government’s Rural and Islands Housing Fund has so far approved nine projects on islands which will provide 16 homes, complementing a much larger number delivered through the mainstream affordable housing supply programme.

In order to improve housing on Scottish islands, the Scottish Government said it will:

  • Continue to develop our approach to Housing to 2040 and ensure that it truly reflects the distinct needs of island communities
  • Ensure that proposals for the regulation of short-term lets take account of the unique circumstances of island communities and make special provision for them where required
  • Explore how the rural and island housing fund might be adapted in the future to expand the range of options to support housing development in remote and island communities
  • Continue to provide grants to crofters to build and improve croft houses
  • Build on current policy in order to make best use of all housing stock including derelict properties and options for compulsory purchase; Consider how best to improve access to homes for people looking to settle in, or return to, island communities, in collaboration with local authorities and relevant stakeholders; we will examine the full range of options to do this, making best use of our existing homes and new supply.

The plan also revealed that to reduce the level of fuel poverty currently present on Scotland’s Islands, the Scottish Government will:

  • Review how delivery schemes can work better locally and review funding for island communities
  • Develop a remote rural, remote small town and island Minimum Income Standard uplift, with the uplift for island areas to be determined separately
  • Produce an Island Community Impact Assessment (ICIA) on the final Fuel Poverty Strategy, ensuring that representatives from island local authorities are fully involved in its development.

Islands minister Paul Wheelhouse said: “Today marks an important step forward in the historic journey for our islands that began with the passing of the Islands Act last year.

“Since Spring, we have visited 41 of Scotland’s islands, engaged online and consulted with stakeholders with an interest in islands in Scotland.

“I hope this unparalleled level of engagement with islanders and stakeholders is captured in the proposed National Islands Plan and that it reflects the priorities identified by the people who live and work on Scotland’s islands.

“The plan, and the objectives and commitments within it, are only part of the answer. I now look forward to taking the plan forward and translating it into action. Through its development, Scotland is showing the rest of the world - as well as our own island communities - that islands and islanders are very important to our nation and that their voices are strong.”

The Scottish Parliament’s rural economy and connectivity (REC) committee is now seeking opinions from islanders on the priorities set out in the proposed plan.

The committee is today launching a call for views, which also invites comments from local authorities and others with an interest in island communities, to inform its scrutiny of the draft plan.

Currently, the plan sets out 13 strategic objectives aimed at improving outcomes for island communities.

These objectives include measures to address population decline, improve and promote sustainable economic development, and improve housing and transport services, as well as expanding digital connectivity.

In its Stage 1 report on the Islands (Scotland) Bill, the REC Committee said that it expected the Plan to “set out both a clear strategic direction and practical approaches to delivery”.

Speaking as the call for views was launched, committee convener, Edward Mountain MSP, said: “A key recommendation in our report on the Islands Bill was that the Scottish Government must ensure that the priority areas featured in the National Islands Plan reflect the actual priorities of islanders.

“To that end, this call for views gives islanders the opportunity to express their opinions on the objectives set out in the draft Plan.

“The committee has a limited timeframe within which to consider the proposed Plan. It is therefore crucial that we hear as wide a range of views as possible in order that we are able to fairly judge the Scottish Government’s proposals.”

Other objectives of the Plan, which is being developed as part of the implementation of the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018, are to improve and promote health and well-being and education, to support arts, culture and language, and to empower diverse communities.

The Plan also seeks to improve and promote environmental well-being and deal with biosecurity, and to ensure that Scottish islands are at the forefront of measures to tackle climate change.

The convener added: “This committee supports the empowerment of island communities and local decision making, and the views of islanders will inform our recommendations to the Scottish Government in its preparation of the final plan.”

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