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Ross, Skye and Lochaber MP Ian Blackford calls on Highland Council to engage with Scottish Government to boost efforts to tackle housing crisis and the issue of second homes

By Alasdair Fraser

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Ross-shire MP Ian Blackford.
Ross-shire MP Ian Blackford.

A Ross-shire MP is urging Highland Council to help tackle the housing crisis with action on second homes and holiday lets.

Ian Blackford, the parliamentary member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, claims young people and existing residents are being “frozen out” of the housing market through increased demand for holiday homes.

He wants Highland Council chiefs to join discussions aimed at helping communities affected by the issue and engage with the Scottish Government on practical steps to ensure sales of existing properties do not freeze out long-term residents.

The SNP’s Westminster leader wrote: “Demand for second homes being bought from the present stock of housing is a factor in the rising cost of properties in the areas and, in many cases, rules out the opportunity for local young people to compete in this market.

“We have also seen the increased availability of short-term lets through platforms such as Airbnb which is shifting the balance of housing usage in many areas.

“Tourism is an integral part of our life in the Highlands and plays an important part in our economy, but it has to be sustainable and it has to be managed.”

Mr Blackford called on Highland Council to extend the pilot assessment of short term let control areas in Badenoch and Strathspey to include Fort William & Ardnamurchan, Wester Ross, and Skye and Lochalsh.

He wrote: “There will be various area-specific solutions for trying to alleviate the situation to enable our population to flourish – especially in some of our more remote areas - while also allowing our main areas of population to grow and attract inward investment. In turn, this would enable us to keep our young people in the Highlands and attract families to the area.”

The move follows a meeting hosted by Lochaber Chamber of Commerce, where members expressed concern about the lack of available housing for employees which is impacting on the ability to recruit and retain staff. The Chamber is conducting a Housing Needs Analysis aimed at collecting robust data about the impact of the housing shortage.

Chamber CEO Frazer Coupland said: “Housing is rapidly becoming everyone’s problem in Lochaber, with a lack of suitable accommodation directly affecting our businesses' ability to recruit and retain staff.

“We are working closely with the Highland Council and our local businesses to produce a much-needed analysis of our housing needs in Lochaber and we look forward to working with others to help provide solutions to the challenges we face.”

Mr Blackford said affordable housing roadblocks in the Ross, Skye and Lochaber constituency included accessing suitably priced land, relaxation of crofting legislation in certain conditions to enable house-building; getting major house building players to commit to developments on the west coast; and protracted planning process, among other issues.

He said: “Looked at as a whole, these issues present a large obstruction to overcome.

“We would, therefore, suggest that we must tackle this as a team for the benefit of the Highlands, using all the resources at hand from within the Scottish Government and the UK government, including recourse to changes to legislation and monetary requirements.

“We would like to look at areas such as vacant housing.

“Given that there are approximately 3000 empty premises in the Highlands, we would invite consideration of a change to the existing legislation to force /enable these premises to come back onto the market, especially on our High Streets.

“We hope to set up a meeting as soon as possible to look at the issues involved to enable us to start the ball rolling so that as many interested parties as possible can have their say.”

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