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‘Without it, nothing functions. Absolutely nothing’ – Orkney councillors discuss the county’s lack of housing

Kirkwall. Photo: Shutterstock
Kirkwall. Photo: Shutterstock

Orkney councillors have discussed the county’s housing needs, with a councillor who spent a career in the sector admitting he has no idea what those needs currently are.

John Richards said he was delighted this is now nearer the top of the political agenda.

He warned without housing “absolutely nothing functions”.

He said: “Not only will you not have economic growth and recovery, you won’t have sustainability.”

He made these statements during a special meeting of the council’s policy and resources committee.

This was during a progress report from Aspire Orkney – a company set up to support a council-funded action plan for post-Covid economic recovery – was presented.

The update from Aspire noted that housing, and the lack thereof, has featured at their meetings.

As a result, Aspire will conduct a housing consultation to collect data, showing a better picture of what is happening in  Orkney’s housing market.

To help with a consultation, Aspire is in the process of purchasing an online engagement platform.

‘Everything is anecdotal at this point’

Councillor Gwenda Shearer welcomed this.

She said: “The amount of meetings that we sit at where we hear that housing is causing a major problem in Orkney is huge. I welcome the fact that there is going to be some robust data collection of what the demand is.

“Everything, as far as I’m concerned, is anecdotal at this point. I welcome this and I look forward to scrutinising the data when it comes.”

Mr Richards said: “I think I’m pretty knowledgeable about housing. After all, it was my career for so many years. I have no idea what Orkney’s housing needs are.

“I hear we need houses here and houses there. But nobody in their right minds would begin to invest in housing without data to back up the fact that there’s a genuine need.

“I’ve seen too many examples across the UK development which had to be demolished because there was no explicit demand, but there was perceived demand.

He said discussions had taken place with the housing association, housing providers and developers, and the public, around the need for a conference.

‘This has gone way beyond briefing notes and seminars’

He added: “A few weeks ago, we talked about recognising there is a housing crisis and maybe what we need is a briefing note or a seminar.

“This shocked me. This has gone way beyond briefing notes and seminars. This needs a conference.

“Housing – without it, nothing functions. Absolutely nothing functions. Not only will you not have economic growth and recovery, you won’t have sustainability. Finally, this topic is near the top of the political agenda.”

However, last week saw councillors on the housing committee back a strategic housing investment plan.

This would see 353 new houses built in Orkney over the next five years. The plan will be viewed at full council next month and, if ratified, it will be submitted to the Scottish Government.

Asked how the Aspire’s data will be used, a council spokeswoman said their plan is regularly reviewed with the government.

She said Aspire’s “has the potential” to influence housing policy in the future and supplement the council’s own data.

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