Lismore plans affordable homes to tackle depopulation

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Lismore needs more houses to tackle the island’s depopulation, its community trust has said after a Holyrood report found ‘significant reductions’ in Argyll’s island populations.

Last week we reported the findings of a study, titled ‘Population growth and decline on Scotland’s islands – 2001 to 2020’, conducted by the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe). The paper concluded: ‘Island communities in Argyll and Bute saw significant reductions in their populations.’

In it was a graph showing ‘population growth by intermediate zones which contain island populations between 2001 and 2020’. SPICe explained: ‘The chart shows that almost all island data zones in Argyll and Bute saw reductions in population over the past 20 years, with the Isle of Bute seeing the most dramatic reduction.’

However one category, called ‘Benderloch Trail inc. – Lismore’, showed an increase. We interpreted this as meaning the Isle of Lismore’s population had risen, but the data was more complex, because ‘some of the islands are included in data zones which have mainland populations’. So, while the overall population of this ‘Benderloch Trail inc. – Lismore’ data zone rose, the population of Lismore within it may have fallen. We apologise for this error.

The Lismore Community Trust has written to say the population of Lismore has, in fact, decreased over the last decade.

The trust’s chairman Andy Hough said: ‘The depopulation of Argyll islands was an important news story you covered on March 31. Unfortunately, your article, along with a picture and the caption “Lismore is the only island to see an increase in population between 2001 and 2020” is quite simply wrong.

‘It implies Lismore may not need more houses to increase the resident population. It does and the Isle of Lismore Community Trust is seeking to address this by building two affordable houses for rent.

‘The truth is the population on Lismore has declined since the census in 2011 when it was 192, (currently 170) and significantly, in 2011, 34 per cent of the population were over 65, which was the highest proportion of any other Scottish Island other than North Ronaldsay and only 12 per cent were 0-15-year-olds.

‘Lismore Community Trust has analysed population data and the availability of houses, 40 per cent of which are used for short lets, second homes or are empty inherited properties.

‘It has not used SPICEe data, as used in your article, which groups Lismore into a population area, including the mainland of between 500 and 1,000 people, or the Argyll and Bute Strategic Housing Investment Plan (SHIP) area which puts Lismore in Lorn, largely considering the needs in Oban. Other islands, e.g. Coll and Tiree or Islay, Jura and Colonsay, have their own strategic planning areas. Lismore needs the same.

‘Your bringing attention to depopulation is welcome and every island needs to work out what it wants to do. Depopulation for Lismore, and other small islands, threatens the primary school, health provision, the religious community, the fire service, the many small businesses and community enterprises such as the Heritage Centre, the Trust and much more. It threatens the functioning of the island.

‘Lismore is an energetic creative island and people want to live here. But…and it is a large but, it runs on volunteer energy and for that to sustain itself it needs residents. More than it currently has. And for them it needs houses.

‘The Lismore Community Trust is addressing this in order to ensure a healthy balanced population in line with the Government’s National Plan for Scotland’s Islands. It has identified a clear need for more affordable houses and wants the wider population, Argyll and Bute Council and the Government to recognise this.’