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Community / Housing issues discussed in depth ahead of new local strategy

The affordable housing development at Quoys in Lerwick. Photo: Hjaltland Housing Association

AN ACTION plan is set to be created for the local housing sector – with affordability and availability of homes continuing to be the key issues faced by the community.

It comes after more than 60 people recently attended a conference on Shetland’s future local housing strategy.

It is a large and complex issue – but Shetland Islands Council development committee chairman Alastair Cooper said the conference was “extremely valuable”.

Results of a recent survey on housing have also been revealed, which have reiterated concerns in the community across a range of issues – such as affordability and availability of homes.

During the pandemic the housing market has heated up, leaving many local people feeling priced out of buying a home.

In addition to this private rent prices remain high and the waiting list for social housing, particularly for high demand areas like Lerwick, continues to prove a problem.

One of the questions in the survey was around the top five housing challenges facing Shetland.

The top five most picked options were: a shortage of social rented/affordable housing, affordability of housing options, limited options for young people and families, shortage of properties for home ownership and fuel poverty.

Other issues raised by respondents include a shortage of private rentals, the impact of empty properties/holiday homes and the cost of constructing new builds.

SIC development committee chairman Alastair Cooper.

Some of the comments provided to the survey included that local people are being priced out of the market, there is not enough private rented accommodation and there is an over-provision of one or two bedroom properties.

When asked what should homes and communities look and feel like in Shetland in 2040, there was a range of comments – but a variety of housing choices was a key piece of feedback.

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Meanwhile November’s online conference on the next Shetland local housing strategy also covered a breadth of issues.

The strategy will have to be submitted to Scottish ministers in 2022, and to develop it the council must “identify and assess local priorities for action that should guide housing activity, partnership and investment over the next five years”.

During discussion it was agreed among members that the “single greatest barrier” to increasing supply of new housing is cost.

According to analysis and recently approved tender costs, it is suggested that development costs are 35 to 45 per cent higher than construction on mainland Scotland.

“It was suggested that by sharing evidence of this uplift, ongoing, proactive negotiations with lenders and subsidy providers would be central to ensuring that local developers (both public and private) could access finance at the rates required,” a report on the session said.

It comes as hundreds of new homes are planned for Hjaltland Housing Association and the council at Staney Hill and the Knab, although these large projects will take time to come to fruition.

The availability of land and the capacity of the local construction sector was also raised as another barrier, while homelessness, fuel poverty and the shift towards greener energy supply was also brought up.

The session also explored what has been proven to work in Shetland when it comes to housing issues, and what the priorities for action are.

People can read the report on the conference, and the survey results, here.

The next stage in the process is to condense the feedback from the survey, conference and evidence into an action plan for each of the theme areas, and a final report will be completed before the end of March.

Cooper said video presentations shown at the event “take a broad view of the challenges and opportunities facing our service, and formed the basis for some very useful discussion at the Conference itself”.

“The presentations contain a wealth of information on local housing across the board, and I’d recommend anyone with an interest in this topic to take a look,” he said.

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