New island housing ‘stifled by red tape’

Kenny MacLeod of MacLeod Construction Ltd

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New house building on islands and in rural areas is being stymied by red tape and high costs, according to a long-standing local developer.

Kenny MacLeod, director of MacLeod Construction Ltd, Kilmory, said a lack of affordable infrastructure on the islands and in rural areas –  from roads to water and electricity and fibre-optics – made some housing projects difficult and unaffordable.

It prevents growth on the islands and in rural communities – contributing to younger people moving away, he says.

Mr MacLeod, of the Argyll-based construction firm and timber kit manufacturer, has 45 years’ experience of building new homes across Argyll and beyond – including developments in Oban and on islands including Islay and Tiree.

The need by regulatory authorities to impose ever higher national specifications on local developments also proved more difficult and costly for rural areas, he said.

Mr MacLeod explained: ‘My company is building 10 houses on the island of Jura.

‘The only public road on the island, from which access will be taken to the site, is single lane.

‘The internal road system planned for 10 affordable homes is required to be designed to city standards which is 5.5-metre wide with two-metre pavements.

‘If development specifications could be revised, the savings made would fund additional houses within the footprint of a site.’

He said remote rural locations are more expensive to service because housing developments are on a smaller scale.

MacLeod’s employs around 200 people directly and provides work to around 150-sub-contractors. It has made representations to the Scottish Government about a range of issues.

The family-run company emphasised the comments should not be seen as criticism of Argyll and Bute Council. Instead, they were directed at some national policies and how they impacted on rural development.

Argyll and Bute Council had been ‘more than helpful’ to local businesses in the recovery from lockdown, the company added.

Mr MacLeod also suggested Scottish Water should be encouraged to allow small developments to be served by individual septic tanks or bio-discs.

In addition, the provision of water and electricity to remote rural locations should be subsidised by the Scottish Government, he added, which would help make projects more affordable.

Furthermore, the cost of ‘impact studies’ should not fall on the developer, he said.

Another issue was the requirement of registered social landlords that housing is built to extremely high specifications, he said.

Mr MacLeod said: ‘That high standard does, of course, ensure the houses are well insulated and easily maintained. The standard, however, drives costs up dramatically and can make small, rural developments unaffordable.

Careful planning of the specification could reduce building costs but still produce warm, highly insulated and comfortable homes.’

While there is Scottish Government funding for affordable housing and funding through the Highlands and Islands Enterprise Agency for workshop units, there is no funding for ‘combined’ units which incorporate a home and a workspace.

This would allow young entrepreneurs to acquire a starter home or a home worker to relocate.

Argyll and Bute Council has one of the highest approval rates for new planning applications in Scotland.

It said: ‘Masterplans are rarely implemented in Argyll and Bute but they are used occasionally to enable the partial development of larger areas of land.

‘Infrastructure costs make up a significant proportion of the cost of new build housing particularly in smaller scale developments.’