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Caithness News Bulletins October 2003

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The Highland Council has welcomed the Scottish Executive’s injection of £10 million over the next two years into the Communities Scotland Development Programme in Scotland and is ready to play its part in easing the shortage of housing in the area.

In addressing the Convention, Councillor Magee said the Council was committed to working with Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Communities Scotland to establish a revolving land bank fund, building on the principle of the £1.5m land banking fund provided to the Highland Small Communities Housing Trust.

She said: "We believe that we can make significant improvements in the availability of development ready land with such a fund. We envisage over time that we might build up to a revolving fund of £10m. Such a fund would enable us to get over many of the problems of ownership and infrastructure. The Council has already committed to the principle of allocating part of the receipts generated by the removal of Council Tax discount on second homes to housing issues when that measure is implemented. If it was possible to link the removal of Council Tax discount on second homes with initiatives to improve housing availability, that would be doubly welcome."

The high sale of council houses, the high proportion of second home ownership in some areas of the Highlands; the lack of water and sewerage infrastructure; and the shortage of affordable housing all conspired to put pressure on housing availability and increase homelessness.

Independent research carried out in preparation of the Councils local housing strategy , indicates a shortfall of 450 new homes per year in the private sector and 1,200 new homes in the social housing sector per year based on current demand and supply. The Council estimated that the Highlands required to increase the overall supply of new housing by at least 1,000 new homes, per year. Homelessness, she added, was a major issue in the Highlands. Homelessness increased by 38% in the last 10 years (as compared to 28% in Scotland). In 2002, over 1300 households presented as homeless.

The stark figures were:

· There are 5 people on the waiting list for every let that is made.

· For every 1 new affordable house built, 3 are sold under RTB.

· Unmet demand for the sector is likely to continue to rise unless the housing associations’ development
  programmes dramatically increase.

Second and holiday homes accounted for 6.2% of the housing stock in Highland. However, in some areas of the Highlands the percentage of second home ownership was more than 30%.

The Convener stated: "A significant constraint on the economic growth of the Highlands is the shortage of housing and, in particular, affordable housing. Urgent action is needed to increase the supply of housing and unlock some of the development constraints which are blocking the provision of new housing."

Whilst the additional £10 million over two years for rural areas in Scotland was welcomed, the Highlands needed long term increased investment to tackle the housing shortfall.

She disclosed that as a result of partnership work on site availability and agreements with developers, the level of affordable housing for rent and low cost home ownership would increase by up to 200 units per annum if Communities Scotland funding was increased by £7.5m per year.

She also said the Council, with its partners (including the Forestry Commission), would release surplus land in its ownership for housing development where other owners are not releasing suitable land.