Early day plans to renovate Coll homes for health staff

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A social housing charity is in talks with NHS Highland about buying and doing up Coll’s empty nurse and doctor’s houses.

Community councillors heard discussions were taking place but called for a ‘cast iron guarantee’ that the houses once tenant-ready would only be rented out as homes for much-needed health care staff.

The search is still on for a new live-in island nurse and suitable provided housing would be a help.

Argyll Community Housing Association’s chief executive Alastair MacGregor confirmed discussions are at an early stage, with ACHA interested in buying the properties from NHS Highland, modernising them and bringing  them back into use as affordable housing.

‘ACHA would be willing to enter into an agreement with the NHS that these houses are provided for health and or social care staff providing services on the island,’ he told The Oban Times.

But added: ‘ACHA is a charitable housing association and, with the greatest of respect to Coll Community Council, we do not give cast iron guarantees with respect to housing allocations.’

Mr MacGregor explained it was ACHA’s intention that those houses are provided on the terms he outlined, however if the NHS was unable to occupy them for whatever reason, he said: ‘we are not going to allow them to lie empty.’

The call for the ‘cast iron guarantee’ was made by community councillor Kirsty MacFarlane at the February community council meeting.

‘I do see the economic argument for it but we need a cast-iron guarantee that ACHA would not turn round and put them on the open market.’

Last year ACHA sold 1A Free Church Manse in Arinagour – the original estate agent details said the property had been empty for some time and was showing signs of neglect it, potential buyers were advised to study the housing report before arranging viewings.

Mr MacGregor said: ‘ACHA is not in the habit of selling houses as we are a housing association that provides houses for rent.  We do occasionally dispose of a property if it is beyond economic restoration or there is no demand to rent, but that is in exceptional circumstances and any capital receipt ACHA receives is reinvested in our housing stock or goes back to the Scottish Government.

‘If the reference to ‘the open market’ is for housing demand to rent on the Home Argyll waiting list from people not currently living on Coll then it would be illegal for ACHA to discriminate on the basis of location.

‘If someone applied from Mull to live in Oban and we said they couldn’t we wouldn’t survive a test case in court and would almost certainly be investigated by the Scottish Housing Regulator and by the Scottish Government,’ said Mr MacGregor.

ACHA currently has 10 homes on Coll.

A spokesperson for Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care partnership said NHS Highland agreed on Wednesday last week to enter discussions with ACHA regarding the sale and lease back of two staff houses on the island of Coll.

She added: ‘The attraction to this option is that ACHA, as a housing association, will be able to attract grant funding to renovate and improve the condition of the houses.’