THE CAPACITY of local building contractors will be critical in determining whether Shetland Islands Council is able to meet its target of enabling 320 affordable homes to be built in the next five years.
The council’s development committee heard on Monday that the local authority’s plans were being developed in tandem with Hjaltland Housing Association and its two “masterplan” sites at either end of Lerwick.
It is part of a Scottish Government target of building 50,000 new homes over the term of this parliament, and SIC housing manager Anita Jamieson said that had resulted in the council’s allocation increasing “significantly” for the coming three years.
Funding of £14.3 million over three years has been made available by the government, while Hjaltland has bid for infrastructure funding as part of its plans to develop affordable housing at Staney Hill.
Jamieson said the council and Hjaltland were seeking to address a “real demand on housing pressure in Lerwick and central areas”, particularly for one and two-bedroom properties.
The intention would be to build around 63 homes a year on average, but the ability to do that would be determined by how much work the local industry could take on.
She said: “The biggest challenge is contractor capacity – we need to think about how we can involve the construction industry locally and how we can maximise the opportunities for local builders to be involved in the delivery of this programme.”
She added that it was “important to recognise that not all affordable housing has to be social rented” and alternative types of tenure were being considered too.
Committee chairman Alastair Cooper said the industry should be challenged not only to provide the necessary workforce but also to come up with “competitive bids” for the work.
“I think this is an exciting challenge that we’ve given ourselves for the rest of this council to deliver all of this,” he said.
“We’re not just speaking about social housing, we’re speaking about different methods of delivery – the possibility of self-build mortgages and such like, and we’re also engaging with community groups, the likes of NCDC [Northmavine Community Development Company], on ways communities can access other external funding to bring housing into their area.
“I want to see that money spent in the life of this council, so we have to get on with it.”
Development director Neil Grant said the SIC was keen to see if there is “anything ourselves, HIE or others can do to assist local building companies” – and was hoping to have talks with the industry in January “so builders can really get their heads around what we’re looking to do”.
Grant said that the council was hoping to attract more young people to live and work in the islands, but the homes planned will only “deal with what’s upon us”.
“We can’t afford [the lack of available housing] to be something that holds back growing our economy and population,” he said.