News / Hjaltland’s 40th celebrates “meteoric” growth

Quoys - one of Hjaltland Housing's key developments - Photo: John Coutts

LERWICK-based Hjaltland Housing Association is enjoying a construction boom as it celebrates 40 years of housing thousands of people in Shetland.

The organisation, which provides low cost home ownership and social rent accommodation, is holding a gathering at Lerwick Town Hall on Thursday night to honour the milestone.

The association was launched in 1975 to help provide housing for oil workers around Sullom Voe and it has grown massively in the last decade.

It ultimately merged with the Scottish Airports housing association in 1980 and experienced a boom from 2005 onwards as a result of a change in the way the Scottish government funds housing.

“It’s been fairly meteoric,” says chief executive Bryan Leask of the association’s rise over the last ten years.

“For the first 30 years it was fairly steady and we did fairly low numbers, so from 1975 to 2005, we built about 300 houses. From 2005 to 2015, however, we’ve basically built the same number.”


Hjaltland Housing Association (HHA) have 670 properties on their books at the moment, with rental income providing the organisation’s ongoing funding alongside building grants.

It works alongside Shetland Islands Council to provide a joint application service that attaches points to potential tenants.

The recent oil boom, perpetuated by the building of the gas plant at Sullom Voe, has seen private rent prices rocket, putting a strain on the availability of rented accommodation.

Leask said the numbers on the waiting list for social housing have remained static over the last decade, despite the increase in new housing.

“The waiting list for us is about 620 to 700, and the council’s will be higher because they have statutory obligations in terms of homelessness,” he said.

“I’ve been here 12 years and the list has never changed. In that time, we’ve built 350 houses.

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“I’d liked to have thought the size of the list would have come down. But it hasn’t.”

Chairman Bobby Hunter added that the “profile of house occupation is getting lower”, meaning that you need more properties for the same number of folk.

However Leask said that the leap in private rent costs – which have in some instances have hit “two to four thousand pounds a month” – have increased the number of people in “dire need of housing”.

One of the major projects on the horizon for Hjaltland is a development at Lerwick’s Staney Hill, which is projected to provide around 300 to 400 properties.

The project gained outline permission from the council in March, but it will be years before the site can be used.

“Well, we’ve bought the land – that’s the initial bit,” Hunter said.

“There’s a whole process to go through before anything else happens. We have to get services in, find a way of financing that services, and only after that we can start building houses.”


“You’re looking maybe at least two to three years before we start on site,” Leask added.

Other ongoing developments include builds at Burnbank and Hillgrind in north Lerwick, which should reach completion in October and provide 26 new homes.

The association is benefitting from a strong level of grants, as it can claim more money from the Scottish government than the local council can.

Leask and Hunter meanwhile criticised UK government proposals to extend the right to buy scheme to housing association properties.

Fortunately housing is devolved to Holyrood so the policy will not affect Scotland.

“It would be an absolute disaster,” remarked Hunter, with Leask adding that many of the associations in England and Wales will, like HHA, be charitable bodies.


So what is the most rewarding part of the job? “Handing the keys out to the tenants,” Leask replied keenly.

“Providing someone that is in dire housing need, and seeing the look on their face when they get a house.”

Hunter echoed the chief executive’s thoughts, adding: “I think Hjaltand provides a tremendous service to the community at large – and long may it continue.”

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