Uist Repopulation Zone Consultation Report

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has today (16 May) published the Uist Repopulation Action Plan, a community consultation and research project to inform the work of the Uist Repopulation Action Zone Working Group.

In February 2023 a series of community and business engagement events and surveys took place throughout Uist to discuss the concept of the Uist Repopulation Zone and its related Action Plan.  This was to identify any gaps, priorities, needs and wants which will assist in shaping actions needed to encourage people to stay in Uist or move to the islands.

Classifying Uist as a Repopulation Zone recognises the islands acute depopulation challenges and the actions that need to be taken to attract and retain people to and on the islands to live and work.  As an initial outcome from the Convention of the Highlands and Islands, including the Scottish Government, they are therefore keen to support the activities that take place within the zone.  A local Working Group have been collaborating to support both short-and long-term actions to reverse the decline and it was recognised at the outset that obtaining the communities views on these was imperative.

The Action Plan focuses on various interventions surrounding Housing, Jobs, Infrastructure, Gaelic, Access to Services and Talent Attraction.  However, whilst these were supported by the community it was stressed that housing is the key issue that is impacting on depopulation, and this includes the availability, size and type of houses.  The report states that

‘People may want to come to Uist but even if they can find a job there may not be a house so, they cannot come to the island’.

Whilst it was acknowledged that there are employment opportunities, several industries, such as construction and childcare, were believed to have a shortage of a workforce with the necessary skills.  Communities repeatedly stressed that the unpredictability and cost of the air and, especially, the ferry services are impacting upon peoples' livelihoods, as is the insufficient digital connectivity and local bus network. Access to shops, childcare, schools and healthcare were also noted to impact upon peoples' decisions on staying or leaving the islands.

The need to ensure that Gaelic is retained at the heart of the islands culture, and also within the Action Plan, came across strongly as it intrinsically woven into the islands identity.  This together with the message that the strengths of the islands - including its healthy lifestyle, safe environment, good schools and produce - must be communicated to entice people.

Following receipt of the consultation report the Uist Repopulation Zone Working Group are committed to the delivery of an updated Plan and, whilst some actions can be delivered immediately, they are dedicated to influencing policy and procedural change to make Uist an attractive, sustainable, active and connected place to live whilst also retaining – and protecting - its unique qualities that entice people to stay.

Councillor Paul Steele, Leader of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, said

‘The work being carried out through the Uist Repopulation Zone is vital to addressing the issues identified through this consultation. It’s really important that the action plan is taken forward for the benefit of Uist and all our islands, these are great places to live and work and getting that message out there is key to retaining and attracting people to our wonderful communities.’

The Uist Repopulation Action Zone Consultation Report and current Action Plan can be found on the Uist Repopulation section of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar website.