Key worker housing crisis is stifling Mull

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Accommodation is urgently needed for at least 260 workers across Mull and Iona.

The lack of key worker accommodation is stifling businesses, hampering the islands’ economy and negatively impacting on essential public services, says a report out this week.

A feasibility study commissioned by Mull and Iona Community Trust (MICT) shows there is an ‘overwhelming’ housing need for staff working at island businesses, as well as schools, healthcare and other public sector organisations.

MICT’s general manager Moray Finch says  funding will now be sought for an accommodation pilot scheme, working with Argyll and Bute Council, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, businesses and other stakeholders.

More than 50 businesses responded to the survey that formed the report, with more than 75 per cent of them  confirming the lack of accommodation is impacting them, restricting the number of staff they can recruit and creating problems keeping workers – two thirds of them  said the situation was limiting plans to grow their businesses.

Results showed accommodation is needed right now for 127 workers and for 133 others across the islands.

Given the survey was only a sample of businesses, the reality of actual demand is much higher, says the report that recommended MICT should  go ahead with developing accommodation for key workers and consider a pilot project working with Argyll and Bute Council.

Moveable pods, modular new build accommodation and shared accommodation options are just some of the ideas put forward in the report that makes a strong
case that investment from the the council’s £70million Rural Growth Deal would have a significant positive impact.

One third of businesses that took part in the survey said they would be willing to invest in a solution but the report acknowledges delivering keyworker accommodation would not be straight forward.

Up until now, plans have been restrained by issues including access to land and funding, as well as landlord legislation that does not fit well with seasonal staffing needs.

Owner of Mull’s Island Bakery, Joe Reade said: ‘The scarcity of affordable housing on Mull is the single biggest barrier to a secure economy and healthy society on our island. As an employer we find it incredibly difficult to recruit, at all levels. We have ambitions to grow, but one of the biggest risks and costs we face is the inability to recruit the additional staff we need to do that. MICT are to be applauded for this initiative, which will hopefully begin to address this critical issue.’

Argyll and Bute Council’s head of development and economic growth Fergus Murray has also welcomed the survey and its findings, saying it will be helpful.

Funding for the Mull and Iona Key Worker Housing Study Executive Summary came from the Rural Communities Ideas into Action fund, supported by the Scottish Government and delivered by Inspiring Scotland.

Meanwhile, Mull-based TSL builders have answered an SOS by CalMac by offering island accommodation for 14 workers starting on the new Loch Frisa ferry coming into service soon. The ferry operator says it is continuing to look at options and appreciates all the help.

Finding accommodation for key workers is also an issue on Coll, where social housing charity ACHA has just agreed a lease on one of its houses so health workers have  a place to stay. A conditional job offer has now been made to fill a long-vacant live-in nursing post.

Talks also began earlier this year about ACHA buying and doing up two empty NHS Highland houses in disrepair on the remote island so they can be returned as affordable homes.

Out on Coll, Argyll and Bute Council has just one house for education staff. The refurbished school house is for the headteacher’s use, whose post is split between the  island’s primary school in Arinagour and Kilninver Primary School back on the mainland.

Although ACHA has not had a request to help house other teaching staff living on the island, such a request would be considered said its chief executive Alastair MacGregor.