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With more than half of all homes in West Ardnamurchan now holiday homes, and with some local townships seeing that rate surge to as much as 90 per cent, the demand for second homes in the area and wider Lochaber region is having a ‘corrosive negative impact’ which blights the opportunity for local young people to buy or rent homes.
So says Dr Michael Foxley, now a community councillor on Ardgour, but a former leader of Highland Council and a founder member of Lochaber Housing Association.
Dr Foxley was commenting in the wake of the recent decision by the Hebridean Housing Partnership (HHP) to block holiday home hunters from purchasing one of its vacant properties at Daliburgh on South Uist.
HHP director of operations John Maciver told the Lochaber Times: ‘This property was determined as not being part of our long-term planning and our board took a decision to dispose of it.
‘We are very aware of the challenges and pressures that people face in accessing housing due in part to the number of second homes and holiday lets on the islands and want to do anything we can to assist with this.
‘Consequently, we are seeking to ensure that this property provides an opportunity for first-time buyers and households who wish to make their home on the island.’
And he warned: ‘If we were to dispose of further properties then we would be likely to seek to protect them in a similar manner.’
Reacting, Dr Foxley said he was not surprised with the HHP’s decision.
‘There is now a very serious crisis in the Highland rural areas and the islands, which directly prevents our young people being able to remain living in their own communities,’ he said.
‘Urgent and determined action is now required by the Scottish Government and by the Highland Council.
‘We initiated a strong policy in the Lochaber Planning Committee 15 years ago that one house in a three-house development had to be sold at an affordable price to a local person, with equity of site size, garden ground and view.
‘This has now been reduced to a commuted payment towards a distant urban housing development. This policy needs to be reinstated and actioned.’
Dr Foxley called for the council tax on second homes should be very significantly increased, but with an exemption from any punitive tax for historic family homes which have been used by family members for generations.
He added: ‘Holiday homes and Air B&B conversions should be capped at an agreed percentage of housing within any post code area as they provide little or no local benefit, apart from cleaners, and buyers now outbid local people for these properties.
‘As a founder member of Lochaber Housing Association, our initial policy was that any applicant had to be resident for five years and acquired points for local residency – for example, a couple aged 30 with a two-year-old child would have 62 points and would received a tenancy.
‘The same couple today would now not get the tenancy, which would go to someone, ‘homeless’ maybe, but with no local connection. This forces young people to leave their own rural communities.’
Lochaber Housing Association, as with all other housing associations in the Highlands, are, along with Highland Council, part of the Highland Housing Register and are now required to allocate a property according to who would currently have the most points for a particular type of house at the time the house was vacant.
A Gaelic summit, organised and chaired by Deputy First Minister John Swinney in 2020 heard of small island communities suffering what Dr Foxley said was a ‘tidal wave of English incomers with little or no interest in the Gaelic language and culture nor the local community and crofting way of life’.
He went on: ‘People are now fleeing the cities, buying houses and sites unseen, above the offer price, with the proceeds from house sales in London giving them £2-6million to outbid all local interests. Again, forcing local young people out of of their local communities.
‘Other parts of the UK and Europe have formidable policies protecting local people in the rural housing market, whether by having a strict planning condition that the occupation is for a permanent residence [Cornwall]; a two-tier market in housing- one for local people only and another open market [Channel Isles]; rural areas where only local people are allowed to build a permanent residence [various European countries].’
Dr Foxley now believes second home sales should be restricted to no more than 15 per cent of any postcode area.
‘Over 50 percent of homes in West Ardnamurchan are now holiday homes, some townships are 90 per cent,’ he said.
And on housing needed to support crofting, he warned: ‘This needs very full support by Highland Council as it is now a seriously threatened way of life.’