A Highland Home

I know the SNP are at fault for rail delays and that Humza Yousaf puts on a uniform every day and drives the train to Edinburgh but keeps making mistakes and lets it break down. I even know it’s the government’s fault when a landlord kicks a tenant farmer off his land. Indeed, it’s clear to me that letting Donald Trump build a golf course here led directly to his election as President. Thank you, Mr Salmond.

But there’s another couple of things I believe the SNP is responsible for and which require prompt action. The second of my ‘things’ I’ll come to in a later post. But first, the following plea reveals a dearth of pro-active thinking and smart action that lets down the record of our government – genuinely. This is not a contrived partisan moan designed to turn people against them but rather a desperate appeal for the kind of rapid, flexible thinking that should be the hallmark of a smart, successful government. It is written by a pro-independence friend and neighbour who runs an architectural company and is reprinted with his permission. It first appeared in the West Highland Free Press….

On Saturday evening I met the contractor who built my house on Skye 20 years ago. I pressed him for two figures: How much would that house cost to build now to the same specification? £150,000 he replied. How much to meet modern building regulations? £250,000 he answered. The next morning this was the basis of my ‘update’ on Facebook. I contrasted this with the costs of my house 20 years ago.

Land valued at £9,000.

Construction cost of £35,000.

A Rural Home Ownership grant from the government covering a third of my costs. My contribution; £22,000. That was two and a half time my income – the expectation at the time as to what the limit of your mortgage should be.

Today’s figures: £80,000 for a plot in Sleat (although some sell for well over £100,000).

£220,000 to build the house (I though £250,000 was a bit high).

No Government grants.

Two and a half times a typical salary of a 26-year-old? Perhaps £50,000.

Money required to build a house as I did? £300,000.

I outlined the consequences of such arithmetic…young people leaving…schools losing children…young people being internally displaced on Lewis to find accommodation in Stornoway…communities and Gaelic dying. The reaction to the post was telling. Almost immediately it went viral. By the next day it had been shared 500 times, liked 1.2 thousand times with hundreds of comments. It had revealed an anger and a sadness from the younger generation. They wanted to stay in their communities. They wanted to have jobs and families and homes. But that chance was not there for them.

The situation is worse than the bald numbers suggest. Self-build mortgages for young people who – as they often did in the past – construct their own houses with their own labour, help from friends and favours from local tradesmen – have almost disappeared. Even if you have family land from a croft, the figures still make it almost impossible to build. Areas like Lewis are in a worse predicament than Skye. Land may be more expensive on Skye but house values are much higher. Build on Lewis and you are immediately into huge negative equity. What bank will lend on that basis?

The housing situation is therefore grim. But if it is solved the rural economy could be utterly transformed. Why? The simple answer is the IT revolution and tourism. This summer saw a record numbers of tourists flock to Skye and across the Highland and islands. There are countless opportunities for small businesses to be set up and offer high end tourism experiences.

The best people to do this are the locals within the crofting communities. A few years ago I remember the Highlands came second to Norway as the best tourist destination in the world in a Lonely Planet survey. What marked the Highlands down? People wanted to hear Gaelic. They wanted to see crofting. They wanted traditional music in pubs. The wanted to interact with real local life. This cultural tourism could transform the Western Isles especially. There is a huge market waiting to be tapped. But who will exploit it if the young cannot build their own homes let alone build their own businesses?

Likewise, the Highlands and island should be given broadband. Not mediocre broadband but the internet as fast as London, Hong Kong or Singapore. This infrastructure investment is more important than any new road, bridge, ferry or airport. Countless businesses could be established and could thrive providing a mind-boggling range of services. Ok, the petrol is more expensive, as is the local shop. The roads are not very good but you are living in the most beautiful place on earth!   But again, to do this there needs to be access to housing, not just for the business owner, but also for staff.

Because I built my house 20 years ago I could start a business with my brother. It now employs 20 people. We are lucky enough to be able to rent an office at the Sabhal Mor Ostaig. In the same building is Young Films, a previously London-based company that moved to Skye partly because they have access to super-fast broadband and talented graduates from the university – an example for the rest of the Highlands. But half of our staff are in Glasgow. That is simply because of a lack of suitable housing on the island.

So what is to be done? First of all vision and leadership is required from Nicola Sturgeon (this is not an issue for a junior Housing Minister). The vision is the thriving, dynamic economy that could be created. The leadership is in making it happen. That is the difficult bit. I have some ideas.

Firstly, the approach now and of the past will not work. There are lots of great people involved in charities, housing associations and cooperatives who have been working for years to provide social housing. It is scratching the surface. This requires massive state intervention.

The government should build the biggest cross laminate timber (CLT) factory in the world. This new construction technique – houses built from a solid wood laminate made from the pine forests of the Highlands – will be an incredibly green form of construction. It will also be a new industry for Scotland, linked to research at our best universities such as Napier, and one that will also transform the economics of forestry. CLT kits should be modular and cutting edge, developed in tandem with changes in building regulations that will allow these to be built cost effectively, providing high quality, well designed housing. The kits should be provided free to young people who qualify. Local tradesmen and contractors can erect and complete.

The fundamental purpose behind crofting should be to keep people on the land and to allow communities to grow. If you are a crofter you should be obliged (or forced even) to provide a small plot of land for any family member who wants to stay. Children at the local school are more important than sheep. Likewise a portion of common grazing in each township should be set aside for housing for the wider community. Younger brothers, older and younger sisters (as well as other locals) should not be denied the opportunity to build a home just because they did not inherit the croft.

Crofters should be given something very important in return. That is access to loans so they can diversify their crofts into tourism. That could mean money to renovate blackhouses, or to build modern sheilings – holiday homes on the crofts that can provide income and employment and an authentic cultural tourism experience for the visitor. This will also take pressure off the existing housing stock, much of which is being used as holiday homes when it could be rented as family homes.

Land reform, Land Value Tax, compulsory land purchases, council housing, changes to planning and building regulations could also help as well as some limited grants to service sites.

This is not a problem that will be addressed by devolving more power to local communities. It is not a problem that will be solved by giving more power to crofters and community councils. Unfortunately, people argue, fall out and become unreasonable when it comes to housing. This requires Big Government to say, I am sorry, but a generation has been let down. We will not stand by and watch them be betrayed any longer. These amazing young people that the Highlands produce every year should be given the chance to live, love and prosper in their own communities. We will make it happen.

Alasdair Stephen, Director of Hebhomes, Glasgow and Skye.

http://www.hebrideanhomes.com

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35 thoughts on “A Highland Home

  1. A great article. But why limit CLT housing to the Western Isles?
    Communities throughout Scotland would benefit from this powerful initiative. Lord knows, there is plenty of land lying empty and derelict.

    • Agreed but why limit it to CLT housing. Where is the choice? The Scottish Government need to offer assistance with housing that is neither prescriptive or regional. Every area of Scotland has to be considered. These problems do not just exist in the Highlands. In my wider family none of the younger ones (aged 21-30) have any chance of ever being able to buy their own home. Trying to raise the required deposit whilst on lowish wages is impossible. All of them are paying very high private rents so saving each month is just a dream.

      • Mass production of cheap affordable CLT homes would have the land and property speculators squealing like stuffed pigs,

        If the Scottish Government and LA’s offered ‘free’ or cheap land on which to build , prices would plummet as more affordable prices for starter homes and ‘social housing’ (council houses) were built; the law of supply and demand would kick in, and property prices, and the outrageous price of land would drop.

        The Lairds with their big estates, legacies of Scotland’s serf past, would see their paper wealth plummet, and who knows, may have to sell of their ill-gotten land to make ends meet, bless.
        And all those neo-rentiers, the Buy To Let Landlords, might take a weel deserved pasting too.
        I like it.

        • So do I, Jack. Great article and very worthwhile ideas from Alasdair. Discussing this very problem with young Highland people the other day. It’s imperative that we act soon – before it’s too late.

      • Over in Southern NZ our youngest and her fiance are looking to buy. This has been enabled by Kiwisaver, the national pension system. You pay in, your employer pays in and, theoretically, the govt pays in (but is prone to taking holidays). You can take some of your pot out to form a house deposit for a first time house purchase. She is a postrgrad student but has accumulated a pot from part time and holiday employment.

        This sort of thing doesn’t solve the land availability problem but it helps with the affordability.

        Back in the day my wife and I bought a house predicated on my PhD stipend. We had a subsidised (via a discounted interest rate) mortgage from the then government Housing Corporation. Estate agents kept a book of HC properties, entry level, required a bit of doing up. You did that and that and the market increased your equity enabling you to trade up after enough years. We moved to the UK and cashed in our equity to buy a computer and a car in London.

  2. Well done..

    Don’t forget that the original West Highland Free Pres, run by Ray Burnett, was a great wee radical paper. That is, till Brian “Scotland is British” took it over and turned it into a Unionist Labour Nuclear supporting hack rag.

  3. Yes! Yes! Yes!

  4. Nice article, and I cannot argue with the sentiment that rural populations need to be retained and indeed grown.
    On the other hand I believe that you are overstating the cost of the new-build structure. For a reasonable family home of around 110-120 m² I would expect the build cost to be more along the lines of 100-120K as a self-build.
    If we take the lower figure we can see that yet again it is the landowners that are making the real money and causing the ridiculous house prices that prevent the young from having any hope of affording their own home. Perhaps if the landowners actually had to pay for holding on to all that land they may be a lot quicker at offloading it a reasonable rate.
    Roll on annual ground rents.

    • Whilst you’re right to an extent, £100-120,000 is still outwith the reach of the vast majority of 20-somethings. It would require an income of £40,000, and how many of those are there in our rural communities?

    • Yes, a step toward loosening the grip of landowners would by to bring all that untaxed land into the tax structure. My house is taxed; how not the 40,000 – 60,000 acre holdings nearby?

  5. Me too 👍🏻Maybe an SNP member should introduce the idea at the next conference?

  6. Alasdair Macdonald

    As a country, we really have to adress the land ownership issue, and, especially the amount of land which is being ‘hoarded’ in our cities to create an artificial shortage and force up prices – and they call this is the ‘FREE’ market!!!
    Actions can be taken quickly to make holding/hoarding of such land pretty costly so that selling it becomes the inevitable decision. The greater supply should bring prices down, encouraged by suitable taxation and incentive initiatives, and make self -build much more feasible. By encouraging the development of industries such as that described in the article would make building relatively quick and make swift inroads into the housing ‘shortage’ (again, due to the hoarding of properties). It would also be ‘green, create jobs and so create more income and more money in circulation to stimulate the economy. Austerity is simply the redistribution of wealth from the majority of us to the relatively few. It is a political choice, not the ‘essential rebalancing of the economy’ which it is billed as.

  7. Not possible with DevoDiddlySquat from the Smith Commission.

  8. Housing is a long-standing issue in Skye and elsewhere – as it was 20 years ago. I, like Alasdair, could no longer afford to buy the land and build the house that I did in 1998 (land cost then £18,000, now £70,000 for example).

    But the problems begin when we look at these challenges to rural areas in isolation. We need an umbrella approach that looks at housing, transport, school, sustained (and well paid) employment, etc.

    I am sceptical too about Alasdair’s faith in IT. My own interest is in healthcare delivery to remote communities. To quote a recent iScot article:

    “The Dewar Committee Report of 1912 led to the formation of the Highlands and Islands Medical Scheme which itself formed the blueprint for the NHS over 40 years later.

    One of the issues highlighted by the Report was the poverty of telecommunications in rural areas – “There is abundant evidence to show that liberal extension of telephone communication in connection with the medical service would be a great public boon, and pre-eminently in the case of insular and remote centres where a trained nurse is stationed. She could discuss a case with the doctor and take his detailed instructions. At present efforts are often made to communicate by telegraph, which for purposes of medical inquiry and advice, is cumbersome and unsatisfactory. The Committee were surprised to be told that the Post Office was contemplating the withdrawal of telegraph service from some of the remote Western Islands. We strongly deprecate any such action”.

    Sadly 100 years later perhaps not much has changed. The Offcom report “Connected Nations 2015 (Scotland)” found that “it remains the case that the individual nations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as rural England, see lower availability of communication services”.

    On every measure Scotland fares worse than the rest of the UK. For “old fashioned” 2G voice coverage Scotland stands at 95% compared to 98% in England and 97% for the UK as a whole. For outdoor 3G voice and data the figure for Scotland is 79% compared to 88% for the UK and 91% for England. And for superfast broadband coverage the figures are 73%, 83% and 84% respectively.

    But when we “drill down” to rural Scotland the differences are even starker. The coverage for super fast broadband in rural Scotland is as little as 31% and whilst urban Scotland enjoys average download speeds of 31Mbits/sec in rural Scotland the figure is only 11Mb/s. Overall in Scotland only about 14% of premises are unable to get download speeds in excess of 10Mb/s. But in rural Scotland it’s 57%, with Argyll and Bute fairing even worse at 70% and the Western Isles at a whopping 90%.

    Around 20% of premises in Scotland are complete or partial “not spots” for indoor voice and outdoor data coverage. But in rural Scotland the figure is 73%.

    Dr Andrew Inglis, a Consultant in Emergency Medicine who works for Scotland’s Emergency Medical Retrieval Service, says “a modern reliable mobile phone network across remote and rural Scotland would benefit the NHS in terms of improved quality of healthcare and reduced costs. The use of phone, camera, video and computer technology can enhance the delivery and sustainability of locally delivered care with savings in time and cost. Rural general practice is challenging with recruitment and logistics difficulties. Communication is a key issue. Out-of-hours cover for remote general practice can be problematic and many rural areas have concerns regarding emergency ambulance provision”. He distributes regular updates on communication issues but hasn’t done so now for about 11 months. When asked why recently he said it was because nothing had really changed in that time.

    There is a growing body of evidence from across the world as to the value of out of hospital photographic and video links e.g. with road traffic accidents and other case of trauma, dermatological conditions, etc.

    In addition, the ability to transmit data remotely can be invaluable – a ECG in someone with chest pain or the home monitoring of someone with a chronic medical condition – reducing the need for costly and time consuming visits to hospital clinics and allowing early intervention from local primary healthcare teams. A project in the Western Isles showed that the use of such technology reduced appointment cancellations and as a result reduced travel costs for visiting consultants.

    A poor rural mobile network prevents communities from taking advantage of these advances in technology and ends up costing the NHS more.

    In 2015 the Scottish Government, working in partnership with COSLA, BT, Highlands & Islands Enterprise and the EU Regional Development Fund, launched an ambitious £412 million project aiming to extend high speed broadband to around 95% of Scotland by the end of March 2018. But a target of 95% of the population still excludes quarter of a million people.

    And there are major challenges for delivering such services to rural Scotland compared to other rural parts of the UK. For example, longer line lengths and longer distances from exchanges results in serious signal deterioration between the fibre cabinet and the end users of the service.

    The Scottish Government’s programme is being monitored by Audit Scotland who published their latest update on 18th August 2016. It talked about the “good progress” being made but acknowledged that “extending coverage to rural areas remains a challenge”. So far the Government scheme is ahead of target but “the remainder of the roll out will be more challenging”.

    Caroline Gardner, Scotland’s Auditor General said “It’s encouraging to see good progress being made in rolling out fibre broadband. However, there is a lot still to be done by the Scottish Government if it is to achieve its vision of a world class digital infrastructure, particularly in improving download speeds in rural areas. It’s important that it continues to monitor the cost and progress of broadband roll out so that these communities aren’t excluded”.

    There is also another potential “dark spot” on the horizon over which Scottish Government has no control.

    The Emergency Services Network (ESN) is the means by which emergency services communicate within and among themselves. The UK Government put the current Airwaves service up for tender and awarded the contract for providing a new system to EE – a company which recently advised some customers in rural Scotland to switch to alternative providers as they could no longer guarantee a service in their locality. It’s clear that if EE are to match the existing Airwave service they will have to significantly improve their current level of remote rural coverage.

    Those of us working in remote rural healthcare can look with some degree of envy at other parts of the world. The following was gleaned from a recent email exchange with international colleagues.

    In Labrador, Canada telehealth via 3G wireless is provided to all remote communities and between a general hospital in Goose Bay and a specialist hospital in St Johns, Newfoundland. This service is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The emergency department in Goose Bay uses telehealth to support the management of cardiac arrest or major trauma by remote teams on the ground. The Labrador telehealth system also supports primary care in the management of acute and chronic disease and provides access to specialist opinion. The service is felt to save money and save lives.

    Meanwhile remote rural healthcare workers in Queensland, Australia use telemedicine as a routine part of their medical practice. Tiny Thursday Island in the Torres Strait routinely uses telemedicine to link with specialist centres over 1000Km away.

    And a conference held in Inverness earlier this year heard how a community-led health service uses telecommunication to support healthcare assistants to provide services to remote Alaskan communities sometimes with as few as 20 households; in northern Sweden the remote area of Norrbotten, an area larger than Scotland but with only quarter of a million people, has universal 4G coverage; the Peruvian part of the Amazon basin mobile phones, charged with solar energy, are being used to help local women to provide healthcare in their own villages; in Kenya nomadic people are using mobile phones to access healthcare consultations remotely; and in Rwanda they are aiming to provide 4G coverage to over 95% of their population to allow a new generation of doctors and healthcare workers to work in remote parts of that country.

    British Telecom seems to be aware of the challenges. They have recently launched a trial project covering only 20 household in the Township of North Tolsta in Lewis. A new technology, Long Reach VSDL, aims to overcome the loss of speed caused by the long distances from the fibre cabinet to the end users.

    Other rural communities in Scotland are taking matters into their own hands. The local community development trust on the island of Coll have teamed up with the Scottish Futures Trust and Vodafone to have a community-owned mast providing 3G and 4G signals for the island as an alternative solution to the provision of broadband.

    In Argyll a community-led and community-owned project, GigaPlus Argyll is being supported by Highlands & Island Enterprise in their attempts to download speeds from 2Mb/s to as much as 50Mb/s in Colonsay, Mull, Iona, Jura, Islay, Lismore and Craignish.

    So whilst the doubts of Hollyrood’s opposition parties and the caution expressed by Audit Scotland are undoubtedly justified there are definite glimmers of hope out there. And perhaps by 2020 we here in rural Scotland can have the kind of telecommunications network that other remote parts of the world already take for granted”

  9. I am just waiting for the Brit Nat Press and Media to link the SNP SG to the Death of Castro. I mean it is just a disgrace that there isn’t a transatlantic high speed rail link to Havana that runs on time. We are the only place on the planet that is badder than Cuba, Russia, North Korea, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Iran, Assad’s Syria, China, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Burma all rolled in to one. Did I miss any out? Well not that it matters as us Scots are to blame for all of the above. We is truly dread!

  10. Something missing is the UK’s love affair with housing as a pot of gold. For some years I lived just this side of the Skye Bridge and it seemed to me 2 important things were happening. First loads of money from down south, including Scotland, i.e. people who had made a killing selling a property, pushing up prices either for second homes to to build new. This is part of the knock-on effect of stratospheric prices in London and the SE. The second, was crofters cashing-in by diversifying into selling building plots.

    I agree house prices need to be brought under control, but who’s going to tell people sitting on what they thought was a gold mine, sorry, you’re going to have to settle for less, a lot less?

    And what is the ethics of handing people in a certain part of the country a huge public subsidy in the form of a house-kit? It’s not just rural Scotland that needs a housing plan, it’s the whole of Scotland, together with improved Building Standards (regs) and better standards of building. (Having had our own eco-house built I was appalled at the standard and attention to detail of some of the workmen and the competence of the supervision.)

  11. The housing market doesn’t have to be the way Britain’s is:

    “In buying a charming if rundown house in the picturesque German town of Goerlitz, he was surprised – very pleasantly – to find city officials second-guessing the deal. The price he had agreed was too high, they said, and in short order they forced the seller to reduce it by nearly one-third. The officials had the seller’s number because he had previously promised to renovate the property and had failed to follow through.

    As Locke, a retired historian, points out, the Goerlitz authorities’ attitude is a striking illustration of how differently the German economy works. Rather than keep their noses out of the economy, German officials glory in influencing market outcomes. While the Goerlitz authorities are probably exceptional in the degree to which they micromanage house prices, a fundamental principle of German economics is to keep housing costs stable and affordable….”

    “In World’s Best-Run Economy, House Prices Keep Falling — Because That’s What House Prices Are Supposed To Do” at Forbes.com –

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/eamonnfingleton/2014/02/02/in-worlds-best-run-economy-home-prices-just-keep-falling-because-thats-what-home-prices-are-supposed-to-do/#3561f992bb2d

  12. “The fundamental purpose behind crofting should be to keep people on the land and to allow communities to grow.”

    As a ‘native’ all I can say is that is a fine aspiration but it shall not and can not work. Crofting is a manufactured system which was designed NOT to allow those taking part to prosper, these sub optimal units were designed to provide less than what was required to survive and were situated on poor quality land to ‘encourage’ the (idle / backward) indigenous population to part take in other industrial enterprises and so it largely remains, fixed in time by the Napier Commission.

    As always the key issue in the Highlands and Islands is the lack of affordable land. If crofting is to be sustainable the crofts need to be bigger and have access to better quality land. It is the same for all others enterprises as well. In any area, whatever it is you are trying to do you shall eventually run up against the local estate(s) who more often than not own everything. Ever heard the one where Scottish Land & Estates trot out the line that their membership are the custodians of the countryside? Well that is indeed the case as they own everything or 99% of it and this then feeds down and means then have undue influence over the development of local communities. This is not healthy in a modern democracy, retards development and drives people away.

    I have always been a SNP supporter but I have to say that I have been bitterly, bitterly disappointed with the response of the party hierarchy to the issue of land reform. I have a lot of time for Nicola Sturgeon but when I have heard her speak on this topic all I hear is the usual political guff I am more used to hearing from the Unionists. Perhaps because she is a lawyer and not from this part of the world she does just not get how important this is to people here and how intertwined this is with culture and language to boot.

    It is time for the SNP to deliver something for the people here and stop playing at ‘Yes Minister’ style politics. They seem completely bogged down with their own civil servants and lawyers and seem more interested in bending over backwards to appease special interest groups (see above) who do not and will not ever vote SNP or YES but I do and will………………….

    Sad and incredibly disappointing.

    • Here here Iain!

      A successful croft nowadays is little different from a large sheep farm due to agricultural policy and market forces. Many others no longer produce any food at all.

      What we need is a new rural development policy that focuses on people and communities and not on sectoral support to the big boys of the agriculture, shooting, and forestry brigades. Creating housing plots with a bit of land for food production or business development could be a highly successful approach to sustainable rural development, but the SNP shows itself to be no different from the Westminster parties in its fawning approach to big business and powerful interest groups who oppose such a move.

    • Steve Asaneilean

      Spot on Iain – the crofting system was designed NOT to provide sustainable living for the crofters and hence, then as now, the majority have to have “second jobs”. Then it was kelp farming to line the pockets of Sutherlands or Leverhulmes, now it’s driving buses for Stagecoach or lorries for the Council or whatever.

      Like you I have a lot of time for the First Minister and Scottish Government and often find myself defending both.

      But their attitude and response to the crucial issue of land reform has been timid, luke warm and anaemic.

      So we are left with the majority of Scottish land being in the hands of less than 0.0001% of the population. And these landowners, both in rural and urban Scotland, impede local communities, hold up and stifle essential local developments, and refuse to release land to build housing for essential workers like nurses and teachers.

      Where are the radical proposals from SG to tackle these iniquities? Where is the land tax? Where is the enforcement of access rights? Where is the compulsory purchase for essential community facilities like primary schools or medical centres?

  13. There are hundreds, possibly thousands of homes that exist now only as derelict ruins in our countryside, having been abandoned and, in some cases, deliberately vandalised by the landowner. And not a foreign landowner at that, but a home grown one that just happens to own more land than anyone else in Scotland – our very own Forestry Commission. An organisation that puts trees and corporate profits of the processing sector before the people and their basic housing needs.

  14. Iain Ross: yes, but you seriously underestimate the power of the “Tweeds”.

  15. “But their attitude and response to the crucial issue of land reform has been timid, luke warm and anaemic.” I agree and wish the SG was more revolutionary and socialist. But, it’s a matter of judgement – be more revolutionary and perhaps kill independence, for there are always losers as well as winners, and at the moment perhaps more losers, or more who think they will lose and will abandon indy. Or be “conservative” (which is what we Scots are, in the main) and lose the radicals. I don’t know what the answer is. Other than if the SNP lose support then Independence is dead.

  16. The problem with Eilean Siar is one which you wouldn’t expect given the climate – there is an acute shortage of (treated) water supplies and treatment plants in large parts of the islands. This means that depending on the area you could be waiting YEARS for a connection to water/sewerage services.

    In terms of crofts – perhaps people don’t understand how they work (the author certainly doesn’t), but here’s the key thing : THE CROFTER DOESN’T OWN THE LAND so the idea about retaining a section of land for family members is a complete non-starter. The crofter does however have the right to purchase 0.25 acres of the croft (used to be called a feu) as a site for a house & the price is heavily discounted but its a one-time only offer. If you wish to buy more of the croft then its at market value but in practice the estates are unlikely to sell without significant caveats concerning future construction.

    What SHOULD be happening is the practice of selling the tenency of the croft should be banned.

    That’s where the massive increase in costs is coming from for land. It should be noted that its not the landowners selling the tenencies, its the crofters. That’s down to the Crofting Commission to regulate IMHO and they’ve shown no interest in doing so. Its fair enough that the departing crofter gains a fair reward for any improvements made by him to the land, but that’s not what’s happened in recent years; its all been pure land speculation driven by the locals.

    I used to live up there, my father was a weaver/crofter & I disposed of the house/feu (sold) and croft (tenency given to a guy I went to school with) when he died. Most people would put the tenency up for sale (10.5 acres) as it’d go for £25,000+ these days which I consider totally insane.

    Sadly the current crofting/housing situation is largely caused by local greed on Eilean Siar & I have limited sympathy for them.

    • My house is on a family croft and I do understand how crofting works. The point I was making was that the ‘fundamental purpose behind crofting should be to keep people on the land and to allow communities to grow’. This would require a change in legislation and a new direction for the Commission.

      As you say, crofters have the right to purchase a ‘feu’ for a heavily discounted price. New legislation could give them rights to create new plots for family members on the same basis.

      • I’m sorry but you clearly don’t understand how crofting works – here’s a clue, it doesn’t. It was never intended to provide anything more than subsistence living & for Eilean Siar that won’t change regardless of land law changes as there simply isn’t enough good land, nor is it economical (or legal) to convert peat moors to arable land.

        Other comments explain why crofting was never intended to work better than I could put it.

        The reason plots of land are so expensive is NOTHING to do with the estates, its to do with local greed and in some instances local water treatment capacity (Tarbert only got clean water in 2013!).

        Here’s the ABC of land speculation on Eilean Siar :

        1) Buy a croft tenency at an exorbitant price;

        2) Once the CC has approved your tenency, buy your 0.25 acres of the croft at a discounted price;

        3) Build house on 0.25 acres & sell it. Profit!

        4) Sell tenency of croft onto next speculator. Profit!

        5) Rinse/repeat.

        Nothing you’ve said reflects reality & your suggestions of Black Houses and “shielings” (its called an airigh BTW) indicates you really don’t have a clue.

        Also FYI – I dunno how it works on Skye but kit houses have been the norm on Eilean Siar for 30+ years…..

        • Alasdair Stephen

          You seem to think I disagree with you when it comes to crofting. Of course it was never a viable form of agriculture. I never said the estates were the problem. I never said that some crofters aren’t profiteering. What I said was that the entire purpose of crofting should be changed – it should be about retaining people on the land and growing the communities. It should not primarily be about agriculture. That means a change in legislation. I also said that high-end cultural tourism offered a future on crofts. I’m a fluent Gaelic speaker so I know what an airigh is. My architecture practice is designing a lot of modern airighs on crofts on Skye. That’s reality and it does work. I own a kit house business and I’m an architect so know about kit houses.

          Gentle advice is to read something properly before getting angry and pressing the send button.

  17. Who can write a summary of what measures the SNP has taken?

    Isn’t a proper land registry being established at long last? I watched whoownsscotland.com (?) for progress for a few years, amazed at how secret it all was.

    Didn’t they fight the aristocrats all the way to the ECHR over their plan for compulsory community purchases?

  18. What a great idea and roll it out to the whole of Scotland. Another benefit would be a reduction in tax money paid to landlords in the form of housing benefit, In addition have these kit homes designed to take the needs of wheelchair users. I could never afford to buy and have designed a wheelchair freindly house. I am just grateful i was placed in an already adapted council home but I am aware supply does not meet demand. I hope someone in the SNP gov has the vision to support and implement this potential game changer to home ownership and land ownership.

  19. Very much agree with questions of housing, internet (central problem in UK, in my opinion is the monopolisation of the infrastructure..) and for the most part tourism (including outdoor activities). I think also further diversification of support and investment to other areas, such as reforestation and rewilding, renewables, arts and culture, transforming the highlands into a productively diverse and progressive space, rather than purely a place from southern UK citizens (including those from Scotland) to retire too.

    The lack of the above, I believe currently hits ‘younger’ folk who would like to – continue to – live in the Highlands, but lack support, infrastructure and spaces to develop alternative economies, lifestyles.

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