Hjaltland waits for decision on share of £31 million house cash
Hjaltland Housing Association is hopeful of winning a share of a £31 million cash injection that would allow it to build more houses, following a meeting between officials and Scottish housing minister Alex Neil.
The organisation had been left disappointed when it received grant funding this year sufficient to construct only 14 new houses when it wanted to build 40.
However the meeting in Edinburgh with Mr Neil last week, organised by isles MSP Tavish Scott, has raised expectations that Hjaltland, which recently celebrated the completion of its 500th property, will be able to get much nearer to its target.
The investment forms part of a £500 million allocation for affordable housing promised by chancellor Alistair Darling in the budget. An announcement will be made next month about how the £31 million will be divided up between local authorities in Scotland.
Hjaltland’s project manager Brian Leask said of the meeting with Mr Neil: “We outlined what our concerns were, and we did make some progress because there was an announcement there had been an additional £30 million released for affordable housing.
“What he was saying was that the money was there, and we’ve got to make a case as to why some of that money should be coming to Shetland.”
Mr Leask admitted £30 million was not “a hell of a lot of money” – even before it is divided between local authorities – but said the association had been “very successful” in the past when it came to meeting, and beating, its targets.
He said a previous application for funding from the housing association grant had failed to yield as positive a result for Shetland as had been hoped.
“There was what they call ‘proposed unit approvals’, which is how many houses the government wants us to start building in a year,” he said. “They set that at 14, which is very low, especially as Orkney had been given a target of 94.”
However the housing minister was informed about Hjaltland’s aim to provide affordable housing in places across Shetland, and not just centralised locations in and around Lerwick.
Hjaltland chairman Geoff Goddard said the meeting had proved very positive.
“We went to see the minister because we were disappointed the allocation of funding for Hjaltland Housing Association meant we would only be able to start 14 houses when we planned to start 40.
“He listened to what we had to say and the consistent message we gave him was that all we need is a reasonable share of the money, and we will build the houses.”
Also present at the meeting was Mr Scott, who said the money would be available as a result of pressure on the government.
“Hjaltland Housing Association made a strong case for what they can do to deliver more homes if the Scottish government will give them a fair share of the housing budget,” he said.
“That didn’t happen earlier this year. UK budget monies that are Scotland’s will be allocated to housing by the end of July. I hope that some of this will now come to Shetland.
“The government has also now accepted that the way the allocation is worked out discriminated against island and rural areas, so a review is now underway.
“Shetland has been asked to submit its arguments on making sure future allocations of housing money are fairer to the islands. That is a challenge that shall be taken up.”
He added: “This was a constructive meeting but the Scottish government must now allocate more housing funds to Shetland. That is the test in helping to reduce the waiting list of people needing new affordable homes in the islands.”