By RYAN TAYLOR
Housing provision in the isles has been something of a problem for some time, with doom and gloom stories warning of rising waiting lists and a slow down in government grants.
However, this week saw good news on the home front, when Hjaltland Housing Association announced it had completed its 500th property.
The milestone came as the organisation, which started over 30 years ago to provide much needed homes for Shetland’s influx of Sullom Voe oil workers, finished the second phase of the long-running housing development at Quoys in Lerwick (see below).
Quoys only represents a small part of what Hjaltland does though. In the last five years alone the association has completed over 120 new homes, and plans are under way to develop more new houses across the isles in the near future.
Hjaltland chief executive Robin Sandison said he was delighted and very proud that the association had so many houses on its books.
“This is a target we’ve been working towards for many years, and I’m really pleased. We’re looking towards our next target now of 1,000 properties.
“We certainly work very closely with the council and help them to achieve their strategic aims for housing in the islands, and that is what we see our principle job as being.”
Working together with the SIC, Hjaltland has received positive feedback from residents. The organisation’s own tenant satisfaction survey for this year has shown 91 per cent of residents are satisfied with the service provided by the association. “We always try to work hard to keep our satisfaction rate. People appreciate what we do and that makes us feel good,” Mr Sandison said.
Hjaltland spent over £5.5 million on new homes in the last financial year. It started work on 62 new homes for rent from Brae to Gulberwick, and completed 67 flats in Lerwick and Scalloway.
Planning is under way for houses as far afield as Cullivoe, Eshaness and Aith in the next 12 months.
Further ahead, the association hopes to develop new houses in Scalloway, Tingwall, Lerwick and Brae.
In the meantime, work is continuing on 16 new flats at Grantfield in the town, and a development of 20 new houses in Sandwick.
Perhaps the only fly in the ointment is the ongoing question of how to obtain funding from the Scottish Government.
Last year a Holyrood consultation paper, Firm Foundations, revealed plans by the nationalist authority to provide a greater level of housing output at a reduced cost to the government.
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said housing associations needed to be more efficient at delivering new stock, as a subsidy paid by government was rising by more than eight per cent each year.
“Central government money is still one of our greatest concerns, and trying to ensure that it keeps on coming to the islands,” Mr Sandison said. “Without enough grants we’re not going to be able to develop all that we would like to.”
That said, Hjaltland is still progressing plans well for the future, and in the last financial year drew £3 million from the Scottish Government.
The association says it has pioneered “choice based” lettings in Scotland, which this year saw 103 houses allocated to new residents after lying empty for an average of just one day.
? Hjaltland Housing Association’s key milestone came as the association signed off stage two of its major £4.9 million development at Quoys.
The work has resulted in the completion of 42 new family homes, which compliment the 41 houses built during the first stage of development.
As part of the second phase, six new shared ownership properties were completed, offering people the chance to gain a foothold on the property ladder for the first time.
All the new houses have been connected to the Lerwick district heating scheme in a bid to provide controllable and affordable heat and hot water.
The new development included a “core and cluster” project, designed in partnership with the council’s Independent Living Project.
With the second phase completed, work is already under way for phase three of the development by E&H Building Contractors on 34 new homes. When that work is completed, the association will have provided 117 new houses at Quoys.