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Archived News 2003 and 2004

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16 December 04
Council Welcomes Membership Of Community Ownership Programme
Acceptance into the Scottish Executive's Community Ownership Programme has been welcomed by The Highland Council, whose membership promises funding of an extra £50 million over the next five years to deliver an extra 1,000 affordable houses for rent and low cost home ownership.  In addition the Council's current housing debt of £175million (one of the highest debt levels in Scotland) will be written off if tenants vote in favour of transfer. Currently 47 pence of every pound of rent collected is used to pay off historic debt. This will allow a significant increase in the proportion of rent which can be spend on house maintenance and investment.  Membership will require the Council to develop proposals for the transfer of ownership and management of its stock of 15,500 Council houses to a new Highland landlord.  Bill Fernie councillor for Wick West and Caithness area chairman of Housing and Social Work welcomed the announcement as a shot in the arm for Highland.  Bill said: "This is one of the most significant moves toward addressing the housing shortage for many years and it will have an impact for those looking for homes and in job creation as the money begins to be spent.  In my view the removal of the housing debt from Highland will prove to be a significant factor in boosting not just housing but future investment in the area as more people will be able to find homes here."
New housing heads for the Highlands - Scot Exec

Investment of £200 million will provide 1,000 affordable homes in the Highlands.

6 December 04
The Highland Council is now able to provide a low cost home contents insurance scheme for all council tenants. The Tenants Insurance Scheme has been developed by the Council, in partnership with Jardine Lloyd Thompson Public Sector Risks, to provide peace of mind from as little as 7p per day.
The cover is provided on a ‘new for old basis’ with no item age limit and no excess. Cover also provides protection against fire, theft and water damage as well as including useful extensions in cover for tenants in respect of tenants liability and tenants improvements.
Ailsa Mackay Insurance & Risk Manager with The Highland Council said: "Many of our tenants do not realise that the Council does not automatically insure their possessions. Tenants who are uninsured often cannot afford to replace their belongings if they are damaged or stolen. Our previous scheme only offered this service for tenants in one area but now this new scheme gives affordable cover and therefore peace of mind for all of our tenants across the Highlands."
The Highland Council will be sending out letters to tenants with a leaflet detailing the insurance scheme. Any tenants who requiring further information can contact their Local Service Point or telephone the council on 01463 702401/2417

19 July 04
Tenants Asked For Their Views On Community Ownership Proposals

The Highland Council has opened a discussion forum on its website www.highland.gov.uk  to give council house tenants and other interested members of the public the opportunity to comment on the proposal being examined by the Council to join the Scottish Executive’s Community Ownership Programme. The forum will remain active until the Council meets on 28 October this year when it will formally decide the way forward. The forum will supplement the information contained in a newsletter that has been delivered to the homes of all 15,000 tenants in the Highlands outlining the issues involved in joining the Programme and the possible transfer of the council house stock to a not-for-profit landlord.

10 February 04
Voluntary Groups Share In £2.4 million
For Rent Deposit Schemes

New services, to help people who find it difficult to scrape together the initial deposit to rent a home, will be running across Scotland by the end of the year.  Funding for a new development worker to drive forward work on improving access to private rented accommodation was announced as part of a £2.4 million funding package for the voluntary sector.  Rent deposit or guarantee schemes support people who do not have enough money saved to pay the deposit for a private rented house or flat.

10 January 04
Improving Scotland’s homes  - Rob Gibson MSP

– debate Scottish Parliament 8.1.04 RG

The speedy improvement of Scotland’s homes can have a major impact on the confidence of Scots in the work of this Parliament and of the effectiveness of the Government that has made the current proposals under debate today.

I can say bluntly that in my part of Scotland affordable, warm and available housing can make the difference between families and single persons staying to contribute to community life and our local economy or emigrating. The population loss is a great concern for the viability of life in many towns as well as more scattered communities.

So progress has to be measured regularly and carefully in order to sweep away constraints on the improvement and provision of 21st century homes.

While 70% of Scots are now owner-occupiers, and owner occupancy is the aspiration of the majority, we must make sure that the development of mixed tenure and varying types and densities of housing are enabled by the Government’s plans.

Having recently participated in the Local Structure Plan process in Easter Ross it is clear to me that encouraging owners to undertake regular maintenance of their homes is one critical element. This is especially so as we have an aging population structure throughout the country. Older people have not the where-with-all to negotiate the rapids of the house improvement process. The Government needs to make this easier for them by cutting red tape and offering through Local Authorities the kind of one-stop-shop that could help reduce bewilderment and fear of the process.

Many of the available materials in the seventies and eighties were of poorer quality that those used to build and maintain council housing stock. Any canvasser in elections can still see the evidence. So recommendations of the Housing Improvement Task Force are most welcome on responsibilities for the upkeep of houses.

Looking at the guidelines for improvements, extensions and new build there is an urgent need for national guidelines to positively encourage the use of local materials, high insulation factors and new designs fit for the 21st century.

Too often planners reject innovation. As the Development Plan Policy guidelines issues by Highland Council state in the issue of October 2003

‘design, siting and material finishes must respect the traditional vernacular architecture and adhere to the objectives of the national guidelines.’

The Pan 67 advice on Housing Quality concentrates of town scenarios, naturally. However with Scandinavian style houses built to meet public housing needs in Shetland we could do with a Viking invasion of such advanced design onto the mainland. And the Minister must ensure that bodies like SNH cannot veto housing developments in sensitive areas on grounds of architecture inappropriate in sensitive landscapes. How are we ever to make progress to have population increase in the north far less retain bright young innovative designers who want to use plentiful wood from our forests as the building materials of sustainable and high insulation choice.

The availability of land for creating modern settlements and appropriate housing for families, the disabled, single parents, pensioners is a major equal opportunities issue. If you add access to wholesome water supply, which is the second largest category in the BTS surveys we have to ask the Minister to ensure that Scottish Water and SEPA are brought fully on board the drive to modernise housing stock. At present in many rural areas these agencies hold a veto on any new house building over solutions to the obvious needs to minimise costs both to supply wholesome water and to agree the best means to remove and treat sewage.

The final point links with my remarks about Scandinavian levels of insulation, the biggest group of homes in the BTS survey have poor thermal insulation. Caithness area of Highland Council is re-cladding the stone council houses built in the 1920s to include cavity walls and include roof insulation. That is last century’s standards, not the Council’s fault. The lead from this Government has to raise the quality levels to make our homes in the north the envy of the country. That’s why a timetable and necessary resources called for in the SNP amendment should be welcomed by the Minister and are expected by the public.

29 July 03
Latest Trends In Scottish Housing

4 July 03
Women's Aid - New Flats To Be Built In Wick

14 March 03
Without a significant increase in quality affordable social rented housing to provide permanent, temporary and emergency accommodation....................