Social house building in rural Shetland faces a grim future, the community councils’ association heard on Saturday.
According to Lerwick community councillors the case for concentrating houses in the town, where there is greatest demand, is not just logical but in line with local and Scottish planning policy.
But three community councils including Northmavine, Dunrossness and Yell are formally objecting to Shetland Leasing and Property (SLAP) plans for a 300 to 400 house development in the Staney Hill in the town and urging other rural councils to lodge their objections.
The unease over the concentration of council housing in Lerwick reflects a wider belief that country areas are being sidelined by the SIC in spite of a core objective of the council being to encourage and stimulate rural growth.
The objections are based on the following grounds:
● Consideration should be given to rural policy and new-build social housing in landward areas as well as a smaller development in Lerwick;
● The application contains very little detail;
● Rural businesses find it difficult to recruit staff, often exacerbated by a lack of housing in rural areas;
● The development will accelerate migration from and discourage migration to rural areas;
● The effect on residents and infrastructure needs to be considered;
● Existing infrastructure cannot support such a large development;
Additionally Dunrossness is complaining that a surge of businesses based near Sumburgh Airport is not being matched by an adequate supply of social housing in the area, although a plot of land next to housing at Horseshoe Close could be developed.
However director of development Neil Grant said that according to the local development plan, housing was to be built in the “area of best fit” and that one of the main drivers for policy was the housing register, where people list their preferred areas to live in order.
Although the SIC and Hjaltland Housing Association partners were regarded as “exemplars” only half as much social housing as was needed was being built in Shetland annually – only about 150 over five years, instead of the 53 to 72 houses that were needed annually.
According to the SLAP plan, up to 400 houses may be built at the Staney Hill, costing around £48 million over 10 years.
Mr Grant added: “Just because they [SLAP] have put this in does not mean it gets built. It may not be the council’s intention to build.”
Northmavine community councillor Alan Macdonald said: “In remote rural communities what we need to see is social housing. We are continually told by the council that there is no demand for housing in the area. There must be a case for getting money for housing in communities that are declining.”
Mr Grant said that council had to be able to able to “hit all the key points in the strategy” and that what “drives this is the housing register and overall policy.”
But Mr Macdonald replied: “You are really offering nothing to the area I represent.”
Lerwick community councillor Michael Stout said that demand in Lerwick outweighed demand in the rural areas. “We only get 50 per cent in terms of meeting need. We are doing the best we can in terms of the money we get, given that the money we get has terms attached by central government,” he added.
“We have to provide houses where the biggest demand is.”
But Tingwall community councillor Joyce Pole said that there was a “fundamental error” in the way the housing list is made up. She said: “People are not going to apply to an area where there was no housing.”
She added that houses were also unlikely to be taken up where there was a “general look of deprivation” – areas such as Port Arthur and Mossbank.
Mr Grant countered that the quality standard in housing was very closely scrutinised.
Walls and Sandness Community Council chairman Ian Walterson said that it was a shame that national policy was biased towards central areas. “But if this continues it will never work for rural areas,” he added. “What people are saying today is that a lot of communities want some sort of recognition that there is demand for houses in their areas.”
Lerwick chairman Jim Anderson said that the proportion of houses built outwith Lerwick in the past five years was “much higher” than that built in the town.
Mr Stout added: “I would like to break this great myth that the council is using housing to further its centralising agenda. The money invested in housing has to be invested where the greatest need is. I would like to establish what the potential demand is in rural areas.”