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Putting more land in community hands can tackle the affordable housing shortage, according to HIE’s new chief executive

Stuart Black is keen to see more community land ownership.
Stuart Black is keen to see more community land ownership.

Putting more land in community hands could help address rural housing issues, according to a development boss.

Stuart Black, chief executive of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, wants to encourage additional community ownership and affordable homes for local young people.

He believes it will help tackle the historic problem of depopulation in remote and island areas.

Areas risk becoming retirement and holiday home locations

Mr Black, who took up the post this month, said: “If we don’t enable young people to live in these areas they are going to become retirement and holiday home locations.

“Working with community landowners in particular is important.

“Most communities who acquire land want to do it for a positive purpose.

“One of the first things they usually look to do is build houses.”

Stuart Black will work with community landowners to accelerate house building

Mr Black says many people seeking lifestyle changes during the Covid pandemic are keen to move to rural areas in the Highlands and Islands.

However, rising house prices and an increase in second homes make it difficult for local people to find accommodation.

He said: “Some of our remoter rural paces have attracted new people to them and brought their jobs with them.

“Where that poses a difficulty is the ability of young people to get houses because prices have been going up.

Community ownership ‘a game-changer’

“We need to redouble our efforts to work with councils and communities around providing affordable housing in some of our rural and island communities.

“So I’m looking to work with communities who acquire land to accelerate the provision of their housing.”

Mr Black said community ownership has been a “game-changer” for many areas.

“In the past when you had absentee owners, or owners who were not willing to release land for housing, it was a challenge.

“But now communities who increasingly own or control land want to do something with it and the first thing usually is building houses for young folk.

The community in Applecross aim to build affordable housing to retain a viable population

“That’s where we need to work with Community Land Scotland and the Scottish Land Commission to get more land into community hands.”

More than 200 affordable homes have been built or planned in community-owned areas over the last five years.

Recent examples include projects in Lochinver and Applecross.

The Assynt Development Trust bought 55 acres of land for a number of developments including affordable homes.

The Applecross Community Company also bought 5.6 acres to help tackle a housing shortage and retain a viable population and local services.

Keys to unlocking opportunity

Many projects have been helped by the £30 million Rural and Islands Housing Fund which was extended in 2020.

Mr Black said housing, along with broadband, digital connectivity and transport links, are the keys to unlocking opportunity in rural areas.

He highlighted work by HIE in leading plans for ‘re-population zones’ through the Convention of the Highlands and Islands.

Ailsa Raeburn, chair of Community Land Scotland said HIE has supported communities providing housing, jobs and services.

Ailsa Raeburn says community landowners have been at the forefront of delivering new housing in many areas

“Today, pressures on the availability of affordable housing, so enabling young people to stay or return, are even more acute.

“Community landowners across the HIE area have been at the forefront of delivering new housing in many areas.

“We very much welcome Stuart’s recognition of their ability and drive to do that.

“We are looking forward to working with Stuart and his team to build even stronger and more sustainable communities across the HIE region.”

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