By RYAN TAYLOR
The council could once again provide mortgages if a range of measures designed to curb Shetland’s housing shortage is adopted.
The proposal is just one in an extensive range of possible steps that could provide affordable housing for the 900 or so currently on the waiting list for a council house.
Other moves highlighted in a discussion report before the services committee by head of housing Chris Medley include shared ownership, private finance initiatives and selling ready-built houses or flats at cost price.
At the same time the charitable trust’s commercial trading arm, SLAP, could soon buy a large area of land at the north end of Lerwick for around 200 additional houses.
Housing officials admit 200 new homes on one site will not be enough sufficiently to address the shortage that faces the whole of Shetland, but it could provide much needed relief in the short to medium term.
Any new house building programme could be built with a multi-tenure approach, relying on the combined resources of the SIC, Hjaltland Housing and private financing.
An added bonus would be that this would provide continued work for the local construction industry, with plenty of contracts likely to be up for grabs for firms once any, or all, of the measures are implemented.
In past times Mr Medley has admitted to being downcast about the gulf between housing demand and supply, but he was more up-beat about the new proposals, requested by both outgoing SIC chief executive Morgan Goodlad and convener Sandy Cluness.
“There has been a drive within the Scottish government to do away with homelessness, and by 2012 all homeless persons should be in housing,” he said.
“The expectation is most allocations will be from the homeless list, but that assumes that nothing changes. There has got to be some sort of change to the properties we’ve got.”
He said other local authorities, such as in Moray and Orkney, had responded to their housing needs by pushing their rents up – thus building up the extra revenue needed for new houses – but more imaginative ways were required to cut the waiting list here.
Councillors were particularly keen to see the SIC offer mortgages once again – a measure that previous councils had adopted in the 1970s, but had since been done away with.
Mr Cluness said he had received his first mortgage from what was the Zetland County Council, which was a “good scheme at the time”.
Mortgages from the council, he said, would help retain Shetland’s dwindling population, while generating money for the authority at the same time.
“The reason why families don’t stay in rural communities is because of a lack of housing. Young couples in particular feel it necessary to leave the islands.
“In these days of ‘credit crunch’ mortgages can be hard to come by. There’s no reason why we couldn’t return to being owners of houses or mortgage lenders. We make money off it and we retain the population.”
Rick Nickerson said he would not be where he was today, or even in Shetland at all, if it were not for the provision of a council mortgage many years ago.
Jonathan Wills drew surprised gasps from committee members when he said he fully agreed with Mr Cluness.
Allison Duncan was against them, though, claiming it would lead to a shortage of houses available to the council.
“I don’t think we should be going down that road,” he said.
He highlighted the housing development on land next to the Lerwick Hotel, known locally as Emmerdale, where – as previously reported in The Shetland Times – work has come to a halt without explanation.
A new member/official working group will be formed to take the recommendations forward.
- Three pilot projects are being launched to help pave the way for changes to Shetland’s sheltered housing provision.
The initiatives in Lerwick, Unst and Scalloway have been designed to reflect the changes in services available for older people in recent years.
The islands currently boast a network of 35 sheltered housing schemes consisting of 267 properties, but a growth in services for older people has allowed more and more OAPs to stay in their own homes for longer.
In Unst sheltered houses currently lying empty will be used as an alternative to a residential care place.
Currently the care home in Nordalea is operating at full capacity, but care packages operated through the centre will be provided at five vacant sheltered houses in Uyeasound.
The Scalloway pilot will explore ways of working in partnership with the voluntary sector to provide out of hours care.
With 20 applicants on the waiting list, Lerwick is clearly the area with the highest demand. The pilot running in the town will establish two mobile support teams for people still in their own homes.
All three pilots will operate for a year, with regular reviews along the way.