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North is at risk of a 'missing generation' as housing shortage grows more acute in parts of Ross-shire

By Scott Maclennan

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A lack of affordable housing is being exacerbated by an increase in holiday lets and second homes.
A lack of affordable housing is being exacerbated by an increase in holiday lets and second homes.

CHRONIC shortages of affordable housing risk creating a “missing generation” of Highlanders – driven out by rising prices and a profusion of holiday homes.

Highland Council sounded the alarm in a sobering analysis of the region’s affordable housing stock, with nearly 8000 people on the waiting list for social accommodation – or almost the populations of Dingwall and Tain combined.

The issue is so acute in parts of Wester Ross that half of all housing is being used as holiday accommodation.

The local authority raised its concerns in a Scottish Government consultation, which is looking at the impact of Airbnb-style short-term lets on locals in areas like the Highlands where housing stock is at a premium.

The government is considering whether councils should have more power to regulate them so they can “balance the needs and concerns of their communities with wider economic and tourism interests”.

In its response the council stated the problem was wider than just short-term lets: “There is a chronic shortage of affordable housing in Highland.

“This is not solely a direct consequence of short-term let accommodation but also relates to holiday and second homes, which comprise as much as 50 per cent of housing stock in areas of Wester Ross, resulting in unaffordable prices for locals.

“Second or holiday houses used for only part of the year and otherwise vacant do less for the Highland economy and inflates house prices in the ‘permanent’ housing stock sector of the market.”

It added that the rise in ownership of second homes is “very challenging” when it comes to accommodating seasonal workers in communities where there are “severe homelessness pressures”.

The council stated that such is the pressure to leave communities because of housing shortages that rural areas have seen the creation of a “missing generation” of young people.

“There are almost 8000 applicants for social housing on the Highland housing register – a partnership of Highland Council and the five main housing associations in the Highlands.

“Annually, there are around 1000 homelessness applications in the Highlands. There is evidence that would suggest some local people may not present as homeless but simply feel that they cannot remain in their local community and move elsewhere – resulting in a “missing generation” in many rural areas.

“Populations projections support the prediction for this to become two missing generations by the 2021 census.”

Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch Kate Forbes MSP described the situation of family homes standing empty for mostof the year as “outrageous.”

“This analysis by Highland Council reflects the reality I see in these communities. It makes for sobering reading,” she said.

“The pressure on housing in the Cairngorms and on the West Coast is severe. That’s why it is so important that we all work together to resolve it quickly. There is no single solution.

“We’ve got to build more affordable homes, as the Scottish Government is doing, particularly on the west coast. We’ve got to provide financial support to those who can’t afford a home, such as the Self Build Loan fund or the Croft House Grant scheme.

“And ultimately we’ve got to crack down on second homes, many of which are sitting there idly while families are homeless.

“That image of perfectly decent family homes staying unoccupied for the majority of the year while locals have to register as homeless or leave completely is nothing short of outrageous.

“The Scottish Government is currently taking actions to regulate short- term lets and closing down on a tax loophole that was being used by second home owners to avoid paying tax.

“And of course the Additional Dwelling Supplement, paid by those who purchase a second home are all parts of the solutions but they need to go hand in hand with building more stock.”

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