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Letters / Demographic worries

I doubt I will ever leave Shetland.

I love living here, I love the people, the sense of community, the close proximity to friends, the scenic views, the outdoor activities, the culture.

Despite all that, I feel as though all of this is being threatened in a way that’s difficult to bring to attention without also inviting ridicule. If Shetlanders are known for anything it’s our ability to welcome visitors and make anyone who makes the journey feel instantly at home.

The following is by no means meant as an attack on the hospitality, warmth or generosity of my fellow islanders, but instead some food for thought given the increased interest in moving to our islands and how this may have more of a negative impact than might be at first apparent.

Shetland has greatly benefited from migration and should continue to do so, many of my close friends have moved up here from the mainland and abroad. However, I don’t think people are aware of the statistics and what this is doing to our local demographic.

Over the last 20 odd years, the number of folk age 25 – 45 living in Shetland declined by 10 per cent, and at the same time the number of folk aged 45 – 64 increased by nearly 30 per cent, 65 – 74 by 55 per cent and those over 75 by over 60 per cent (sourced from NRS website).

There are very few people my age (mid to late 20s) who own their own home, and those who aren’t still living with their parents are either in private or local authority lets. More and more, especially this year, folk from the mainland UK are flocking to the isles with the intention of retiring, many it seems have very little connection to the isles, apart from a holiday they had decades ago.

Then there’s COVID-19 and the massive increase in attention to the housing market in Shetland, Orkney and the Highlands. Some folk buying houses they haven’t even seen, offering over market value which prices out young locals looking to plant their feet.

And why not sell your one bed studio apartment in London if the same price gets you a five bedroomed house in Yell? With the transition to working from home becoming the norm for many people, rural island life is more attractive than ever to those fed up of paying inflated city prices.

To quote someone who made a similar post in August (referring to the Highlands), which resonated with me and spurred me to write this in the first place:

The change in the population demographic and increase in holiday homes has changed the character of the west coast completely. The majority of the population is now retired, moneyed and from somewhere else and it seems it’s no coincidence that there is always vocal opposition to any kind of scheme or industry that would provide more jobs.

“Normally on the basis that any kind of development of the area will spoil the view, upset anemones or put tourists off coming. I read that people who have spent a lot of money to buy a dream in what they think is simply a retirement village or a holiday resort and have no regard at all for the people that work here and need things to happen to keep them in a job and the economy of the area going”

I see a few truths that can be applied to Shetland within those paragraphs.

Just to reiterate, and I think this needs said again, this is not intended to make anyone moving up here feel guilty, embarrassed or, worse, unwelcome, that’s not the point of this at all.

Who can blame anyone for wanting to move here? We enjoy a high level of public services in Shetland that make us an attractive place to stay and no doubt move to.

However with a dwindling/uncertain oil fund, these need to be paid for through taxes. Perhaps with recent calls for greater autonomy for the isles or within our current government framework a solution can be found that protects our unique heritage, create and maintains attractive well paying jobs to keep young people and families on the isles to pay into the system and ensure that there is adequate public and private housing stock for them to live in.

Peter Arthur