Low-cost homes will be built on the site of the former Craiginches Prison in Aberdeen in a new plan to help fill key public sector posts – including badly-needed NHS staff.
The Scottish Government-backed move is aimed at addressing major problems in attracting specialist medics, teachers and care workers to the area.
High rents and booming property values, driven by a buoyant oil and gas sector, have made it increasingly difficult for lower-paid professionals to move to the north-east.
NHS Grampian and Aberdeen City Council have been lobbying for a London-style “weighting allowance” in order for them to compete with the high wages on offer in the energy sector.
However, Health Secretary Alex Neil will today announce a more radical solution. The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) will sell the former jail to Sanctuary Scotland Housing Association, which will transform the site into low-cost homes with the help of government funding.
The properties will be targeted at key workers, including NHS staff, in a pilot scheme which will seek to prioritise public servants.
Mr Neil said: “There are record levels of staff working in our NHS – more nurses and doctors than ever before.
“But, while we have supported this unprecedented recruitment by boards across Scotland, we know that some local areas like the north-east have experienced difficulties attracting staff.
“We need to think creatively and flexibility about helping where we can – which is exactly what today’s announcement is all about.
“Finding affordable housing in Aberdeen in particular has been noted as an issue that is causing difficulties in the recruitment and retention of staff. We hope these new homes will help NHS staff and other key workers find a place to live, so they can make a vital contribution to our public services.”
The health board and the local authority have both undertaken a number of initiatives to help address the cost of living issue.
The lowest paid NHS worker in Grampian, taking home about £950 a month, is an estimated £220 worse off a month than counterparts in Tayside and Highland because of the higher cost of rent, bus travel and council tax in the area.
Dr Annie Ingram, director of workforce at NHS Grampian, said the Craiginches plan was a “very welcome initiative”.
She added: “Finding affordable housing in the Aberdeen area is a real challenge for our staff and can be a real disincentive to staff who want to work for NHS Grampian, but cannot afford to relocate to the area.
“We look forward to working with our partners to develop these plans.”
Aberdeen City Council, meanwhile, has resorted to offering cash incentives in an effort to fill vacant teaching posts.
Leader Jenny Laing said: “I recently met with John Swinney and we both agreed that the supply of affordable housing in Aberdeen was a key priority for the council and the Scottish Government.
“We welcome the announcement – especially given it comes the day after the council approved an early action investment programme to bring forward our own affordable housing plans.”
Craiginches was declared surplus to requirements by the SPS after the £140million HMP Grampian “superjail” was built at Peterhead.
The SPS was granted planning permission in principle for a residential development at the Torry site in February.
The Scottish Government has said it plans to spend more than £1.7billion to reach a target of 30,000 affordable homes during the lifetime of the current parliament.