Stornoway Housing Roundtable: What’s gone wrong with housing in the Western Isles – and can it be fixed?

As 2023 draws to a close, politicians and local campaigners are gearing up for a new year of fighting the Western Isles’ housing crisis.

Last week, the Scottish Government’s housing minister, Paul McLennan, visited Stornoway.

He met local MSP Alasdair Allan, as well as housing groups including Tighean Innse Gall and the Hebridean Housing Partnership (HHP).

‘Good quality housing is essential’

“Time was short,” says a spokesperson from HHP, but they “are grateful that he
took the time out of a very busy diary to come and visit the islands”.

The ’roundtable’ has come as the Western Isles works to combat a depopulation crisis. Recent data shows that the islands have lost 18% of their population since 1981.

“Good quality housing is essential to attract and retain people in rural and island communities,” says Mr McLennan, following the roundtable.

What’s causing the Western Isles housing crisis?

One of the biggest issues the meeting tackled were the current challenges construction companies are facing.

“Ferry disruption,” says HHP, is impacting on “costs of construction, investment and repair”.

These issues are “hampering progress on affordable housebuilding across the Western Isles,” says Alasdair Allan.

Affordability is key, he says. As house prices are driven further and further up, it becomes less and less possible for “young people and families stay in or move to the islands”.

What is the Scottish Government doing to help?

When asked, Mr McLennan didn’t mention any intervention from the Scottish Government specifically for the Western Isles.

However, he reiterated “the Scottish Government’s commitment to deliver 110,000 affordable homes by 2032”.

Alasdair Allan MSP.

The Rural and Islands Housing Action Plan, he says, will ensure that 10% of those will be in “rural and island areas”.

“Up to £30 million” will be available in a Rural and Island Housing Fund, he says.

Mr Allan is keen to continue talks with the Housing Minister on the issue of housing in the Western Isles.

He thanked Mr MacLennan for his “willingness to meet again in the new year.”

“I look forward to engaging further with the Minister and stakeholders in the weeks to come,” he says.

New homes in Goathill a “once in a lifetime” opportunity

While Mr MacLennan was in Stornoway to address problems, it was also a chance to celebrate recent successes.

He toured the new Housing with Extra Care complex at Goathill, as well as new homes in Mackenzie Park.

The Goathill Development includes a new care home with 52 bedrooms and 74 affordable homes. It’s a “once in a generation” opportunity, says HHP’s John MacIver.

The Goathill housing development in Stornoway. Photo: Woburn Partners

The Housing Roundtable comes as the Western Isles’ Comhairle prepares for a new Local Housing Strategy.

A survey opened on Wednesday asks residents about the issues most important to them.

Closing on January 17, the survey will inform the new strategy, with the Comhairle saying that they “want to ensure we take your views into consideration as we prepare it.”

“The Scottish Government wants everyone in Scotland to have a safe, good quality and affordable home that meets their needs in the place they want to be, by 2040,” they say.

2040 is a long way off. But, one way or another, 2024 looks like it could be a big year for housing equality in the Western Isles – if the Scottish Government keeps their word.

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