By RYAN TAYLOR
THE COUNCIL is failing in its responsibility to provide adequate housing for people struggling to put a roof over their heads, and the shortfall could be behind a drop in Shetland’s population.
Convener Sandy Cluness said this week a near four-figure waiting list and new homeless legislation from the Scottish government were placing an ever greater burden on the council’s housing service.
Speaking at a summit meeting of the community planning partnership on Monday, he said the numbers waiting for social housing were continuing to increase, with 999 currently on the council’s waiting list.
Homeless presentations were also on the rise, with 234 seeking a permanent home in 2007/08.
The convener’s criticisms follow comments in August by head of housing Chris Medley, who criticised the SNP administration’s calls for all homeless applicants to be entitled to permanent accommodation by 2012 – a move that could effectively abolish priority needs testing.
The summit examined issues faced in Shetland as the population continues to drop. With younger folk leaving, the proportion of the elderly will rise and with people living longer that will put greater pressure on health and welfare services.
Mr Cluness said Shetland’s population decline could in part be explained by poor housing provision.
That is despite proposals unveiled recently for 200 houses in Lerwick’s Staney Hill as part of a major drive to reduce waiting list numbers.
Mr Cluness said that – and the continuing work of Hjaltland Housing Association, which will be behind at least some of the new Staney Hill houses – was key to helping address Shetland’s housing problem.
“So far I believe the SIC is failing in its responsibility to this community. Currently the waiting list is 999 – it’s actually 600 in Lerwick and the rest are in the country, but there is a demand for house sites for private dwellings.
“There are a lot of people who never go on the waiting list because they know it will take forever, and move ahead to build themselves. We also have homeless legislation which is only making things worse.”
The number of houses built continues to rise by the 100 a year necessary for the council to meet its long term target. However the rate of new builds has slowed from 142 in 2006/07 to 114 in 2007/08.
“It does occur to me that’s another reason why people leave Shetland. If you can’t get somewhere to stay then you have to think in terms of leaving. Our target needs to be to break this deadlock that we have had for some time and make the changes that will affect this community. Let’s get on with it and get these houses built.”
Earlier this year a report by the Scottish Registrar General showed a net decrease in the population of 3.9 per cent since 1997, taking Shetland’s population below 22,000 for the first time in since the oil boom years.
But while Shetland has faced an overall drop in population, preparations need to be made to help combat a projected rise in pensioners over the next 20 to 30 years.
Head of older people services Wolfgang Weis said Shetland faced a projected trebling of its over 85 population by 2031.
Shetland’s overall life expectancy is already the longest in Scotland at 79.2 years, despite continuing concerns over alcohol and drug misuse.
He said current thinking that had led to streamlining of services in the health sector, such as shared work between care workers and community nurses, would need to be increased.
And machines, or “robots”, could be used to carry out repetitive or menial tasks.
“It would free up workers from repetitive tasks when they can do other jobs instead. We need to set a system in place for partnerships that will reduce overlap between services.”
Chief executive of NHS Shetland Sandra Laurenson said the health service needed to be prepared for the growth in older people.
“When picking a theme for health that needs examining there are so many different choices. The obvious things would have been alcohol, drugs or health and exercise.
“We are making progress with a lot of these things, but one thing that needs to be examined is delayed discharges. It can’t be right when you’re old and have been ill, and have been discharged from hospital but can’t go home because we don’t have enough community care packages or beds in place.
“We do have an ageing population, so this is an issue that’s not going to go away.”
Key to combating the problems are ongoing reviews of day care and sheltered housing provision, she said.
Another factor is the redevelopment of parts of Montfield Hospital into a temporary care home with 17 beds.
That work is due to be completed next month, but Mrs Laurenson warned the work was only a temporary measure, and not a “long term solution”.
“We are the next generation of folk looking for long term care and if we can’t get it right for this generation it will serve us right if it’s not right when it’s our turn.”