A call has been made for a comprehensive funding review of how rural housing is funded and delivered for the islands.
Councillor Donald Crichton, Chairman of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s Joint Consultative Committee on Crofting called for joined-up thinking from Ministers to tackle depopulation and utilise Croft land to encourage young people to live and work in rural communities.
His comments come following the release of Scottish Government statistics that show that only 18 new houses were built in the Outer Hebrides in financial year 2018/19 through the Crofter Housing Grant Scheme.
At a meeting of the Joint Consultative Committee on Crofting held on Monday in Stornoway, Cllr Crichton said: “The 18 new homes built under the Crofter Housing Grant Scheme in the past year are obviously welcome. It is disappointing, however, that the total budget for croft house building has diminished to such a level that only 18 house were built in one of the main crofting areas.
"Building new homes through the Crofter Housing Grant Scheme is one of the most effective and efficient way to build new homes in areas such as the Outer Hebrides. I believe it is critical that the Scheme is considered more broadly and becomes more integrated into the Local Housing Strategy and becomes complimentary to the Affordable Housing Programme.
"The Outer Hebrides presently have an unprecedented level of funding being invested through the Affordable Housing Programme, but the linkages and complementarities between that Programme and the Crofter Housing Grant Scheme appear limited. The two investment funds are in their own silos and there is little joined-up thinking as to how the two funds could work together to maximise opportunities.
“I believe there is a need for a comprehensive funding review that links local housing strategies with the Crofter Housing Grant Scheme as well as the Affordable Housing Programme. As the Scottish Government looks to design future housing investment programmes I would urge them to consider these linkages in order to meet the demand for land and provide the best funding package to address housing needs for the wider community and young people in particular. This was highlighted by the Leader and Convener at a recent meeting with the Housing Minister, Kevin Stewart and I understand the Minister would welcome more dialogue on how this could be achieved. I will be writing to the Scottish Government in those terms and seeking further discussions on this issue.
"It is clear that the Crofter Housing Grant Scheme is not delivering what it should and I believe that a properly funded scheme could release investment and land for building in our rural community on a unprecedented scale".
Mr Crichton concluded: “At the last Scheme review the Government agreed to review the the loan element within the Crofter Housing Grant Scheme. I am unaware of any progress in this area and would urge the Government to conclude its review without further delay and quickly move to reintroduce the loan element."