Shetland should make the case for greater financial support from national government to build more homes to tackle its housing crisis, according to SIC councillors.
The council is already fighting to have the debt it chalked up building houses when North Sea oil was getting up and running in the 1970s written off.
If the debt is not addressed, council house occupants – already paying among the highest rents in Scotland – face a hike in rent of 10 per cent or more next year.
You can sign The Shetland Times’ petition to have the debt wiped out here. It has attracted over 700 signatures so far.
Development committee chairman Alastair Cooper said that, while that campaign was ongoing, today’s housing shortage was being exacerbated by the influx of workers to allow west of Shetland gas to be piped ashore.
Mr Cooper said that, aside of redeveloping Hoofields and a small number of homes in Brae, it was unlikely the SIC would build any new houses during this council. Hjaltland Housing is building some homes, but not enough to eliminate a waiting list which stood at 832 in March.
“There should be more emphasis in this on engaging with government and saying we’re the powerhouse of the Shetland economy,” he said at Friday’s social services committee meeting.
Between 1974 and 1989 the council built over 1,000 new homes to cope with a 37 per cent population influx. Mr Cooper drew parallels with the arrival of hundreds of construction workers to build Total’s gas plant.
“We’re fighting for the £40 million [debt] from last time [to be repaid],” he said. “But there needs to be money to enable us to accommodate more folk and provide the services the UK is needing. The UK really needs the gas that Total and BP are coming with. We should be asking them to do more to deal with the housing crisis in Shetland.”
Figures published last week estimate that Shetland’s billion-pound economy contributed £82 million more to the UK state than it received in government funding in 2011.
Social services committee chairman Cecil Smith endorsed Mr Cooper’s plea.
Councillor Allison Duncan, meanwhile, bemoaned the “extortionate” rents being charged by private landlords following the latest influx of oil and gas industry workers.
“If we don’t do something about this very quickly for young people, they’re going to move out of Shetland,” Mr Duncan said. “I hope we can get something done as a matter of urgency here.”
Mr Cooper also wanted to scotch the “popular misconception that folk are coming in the South Mouth, walking into the housing department and getting a house”.
Development director Neil Grant said the housing department stuck rigidly to its procedures. He does not believe there are a “significant number of people that come off the boat and present themselves as homeless”.