Oban flat crisis leaves couple in tent

Oban is highly desirable as a place to live but a shortage of affordable properties is causing an issue for people wanting to set up business or take on jobs.

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A professional couple desperate to move to Oban to take on a business may have to live in a tent due to the ‘impossible’ housing squeeze.

The newcomers, aged 40 and 34, have been searching for a property in the area since March as they prepare to take the reins of a business in July, employing six people.

Yet despite lodging 15 applications, they say they have yet to secure a single viewing and have never been given any feedback.

The situation has become so desperate they approached Argyll and Bute Council about siting a temporary caravan on a business park but were told it would not receive planning permission.

And because they fall a long way down the priority queue for social housing which is also facing huge pressure, they say that in order to live and work locally, they are facing  paying up to £20-a-night to pitch at a campsite, which would set them back £600 a month alone.

‘While we can travel by car within one hour of Oban we are met with letting ads with blanket pet bans and landlords who do not rent to someone they do not know,’ the couple said. ‘We have references and deposits available yet we are unable to secure anything.’

‘There are flats but it’s impossible to get them because there’s far too much competition.’

Ideally, the couple had hoped to secure a central two-bedroom flat which allowed two dogs for around £700 to £800 per month. They are now prepared to take anything to get on the local housing ladder.

Their experience has been that very few flats for rent come on the market, which means those that do generate a flood of applications.

Many flats in the town which would once have been let to people moving to Oban to take up work, now tend to be reserved for the more lucrative self-catering holiday market or Airbnb, with even some of those being pet friendly.

The couple said: ‘We understand that £700 per week is more appealing than £700 per month but what will eventually happen to Oban when the shops remain closed, and the cafes and restaurants have no staff?’

The couple said the ‘balance’ of accommodation in Oban is out of kilter, which has implications for the town’s economy if working people are squeezed out of an area which already has an above average ageing and retired population.

A local estate agent said rented accommodation had not become available at the same rate as previously due to the pandemic. Estate agents always endeavoured to provide feedback, he added.

Roddy McCuish, chairman of Argyll Community Housing Association (ACHA), said there was a high demand for housing from local people and those moving here to work.

He said Airbnbs drew visitors to the town which boosted its economy, but the accommodation balance needed to be ‘right’, so that tourism and retail workers had somewhere to live, he said.

‘The biggest challenge we have is not attracting people to come and live and work here but finding housing for them,’ said Councillor McCuish, who pledged to take on the couple’s case.

He said a system was needed which recognised such people as ‘key workers’ and that housing associations and private sector landlords needed to unite to address the issue which was getting worse.

Donald Cameron MSP, for the Highlands and Islands, said: ‘Argyll and Bute needs all the job-creators it can attract, and that means ensuring adequate housing, broadband and other essential infrastructure is in place.

‘With an ageing population, we face a demographic timebomb in Argyll and Bute, and it is way past time that we saw effective action from ministers to address this huge challenge.’