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Young people in Oban face heartbreak on the housing ladder as out-of-town buyers table offers up to £70,000 in excess of the asking price, a meeting has heard.
Since the pandemic, demand to live in Oban has soared, yet many local employers are left with serious staff shortages following the departure of many European nationals after Brexit and Covid, Oban Community Council was told on Monday night (May 31).
Member Dougie Graham said young people are being priced out of their home town after being ‘gazumped’ by offers ‘£40,000 to £70,000’ in excess of the asking price – only for the purchaser to often convert local housing into a money-making holiday let.
He said: ‘The majority of homes and the people I have spoken to who have bought a property are spinning them and turning them into Airbnbs.
‘The (holiday) rental market in this town is phenomenal. You only have to look at the likes of Cornwall to see the damage it has done.
‘It’s not all people wanting to stay here. It’s people wanting second homes and wanting to rent it out.
‘It’s all very well saying Oban’s a tourist town but you will not get people working in the tourism industry if they can’t afford the rent of a place, never mind buying a place.’
Councillor Mary-Jean Devon said she agreed with his remarks ‘a thousand per cent’.
‘It’s a heartbreak to see our young people put in bids for houses and be outbid. It’s so bad that people on Coll, Tiree and parts of Mull are receiving random phone calls from strangers saying: “I’ll buy your house”,’ she said.
The cost of some private lets was ‘disgraceful’, she added, and amounted to charging more a month in rent than someone would pay for a monthly mortgage.
The meeting heard that high house prices, costly flat rentals and a letting sector dominated by Airbnbs was driving young local people away and shutting out ‘economically active’ people from taking up jobs in the town, with consequences again for the local economy.
Councillor Jim Lynch, leader of the SNP opposition group on Argyll and Bute Council, warned that Oban is ‘fast’ approaching the point where, like Edinburgh, the authority may need to step in to restrict the number of Airbnbs to prevent the ‘depopulation’ once confined to rural areas.
Councillor Lynch said the clue to the town’s staffing struggle could be seen by the number of notices asking people for an ‘immediate start’. Yet post Covid, Oban JobCentre Plus had seen a 30 per cent increase on its register, which he had ‘never seen’ before.
Member Duncan Martin said to stop permanent housing being swallowed up by the holiday let sector, it might be that councils needed to implement a variation on the ‘change of use’ rule so that such conversions would require a formal application and council permission.
Member Neil MacIntyre said the ‘rot set in’ with the sell-off of council housing.
Rather than trying to intervene and over regulate the private housing market, more council housing with affordable rents for young people was needed, he said.
Many people in Scandinavian countries rented rather than owned outright, he added.
‘We have to change the mindset of owner, owner, owner and making money, money, money,’ he said. ‘How do you change that when that’s the mission impossible but it would be lovely to think it could done.’
Councillor Kieron Green said there were limits on what councils could do, but shared equity projects, such as that seen in the Dunbeg development, did provide more control than the open market where often it was a case of ‘the highest bidder wins’.