The SIC is hoping for feedback from Scottish housing minister Margaret Burgess next week on a proposed three-way solution to eliminate its £40 million housing debt “once and for all”.
During last week’s cabinet visit, the council’s political leader Gary Robinson presented the new proposal to local government minister Derek Mackay.
It would see the local authority receive £10 million from Westminster, which has benefited from over £300 billion in revenues from North Sea oil since the 1970s. The SIC would match that sum to halve the debt and, critically, allow council house rents “to be kept at an affordable level”.
Subsequently, the mooted deal would see the Scottish government hand over £10 million in housing grants between 2016 and 2018. The SIC would provide a “similar sum” in the form of “land value and funding for housing development”, Mr Robinson said, “which would pave the way for new affordable homes to be built in Shetland.”
A petition by this newspaper calling on the two governments to resolve the debt, built up during the first oil boom in the 1970s, has been signed by 2,288 people.
Presented with that evidence last week, Mr Mackay said it was plain to see the strength of community feeling about what many islanders view as an historic injustice. He said the SNP government remained “open-minded” about finding a solution, and vowed to do what he could to get the Tory-Lib Dem coalition back around the table.
Mr Robinson said this week: “We have taken the initiative to try to break the deadlock on Shetland’s historic housing debt problem and secure a better future for our tenants in terms of affordable and available housing.
“We are pleased that the Scottish government has taken our proposal away to consider in more detail and we hope that they can encourage the UK Government to sit down and discuss the matter.”
He hopes Ms Burgess will be in a position to give initial feedback when she visits the isles on Wednesday (7th August).
“The position we have put forward is, in our minds, one that could settle the housing debt debate once and for all.”
SIC housing chief Anita Jamieson said a solution to the debt is “long overdue and is crucial to protecting our tenants, by ensuring that we can provide a quality service that meets their needs and expectations at an affordable rent”.
Members and officials have warned rents could rise by 10 per cent or more in April 2014 if nothing is done to address the debt.
Ms Jamieson said: “The views of our tenants were well captured by the Shetland Tenants Forum’s recent survey. We also need to find ways of investing in new housing supply to meet the growing needs of those on the waiting list. The proposal put forward is designed to find a sustainable way forward.”