Salmon farmers demand fees be used to tackle rural housing crisis

MOWI employee Noemi Lorenzo-Vidaña and her partner have searched for months for affordable and reasonable accommodation near Fort William, without success. She is currently having to commute from Aberdeen on a weekly basis.

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Salmon farmers are calling for £10million-a-year in licence fees to be reinvested in affordable housing to tackle the growing property crisis in rural Scotland.

Trade body Salmon Scotland has launched a campaign to overhaul the current system so that the millions sent to Crown Estate Scotland in Edinburgh are instead directly ringfenced for coastal areas where farms operate. This would echo the system in Norway where rents are used to benefit local communities.

Salmon Scotland says new analysis shows average home prices in areas where salmon farms operate have risen more sharply than the national average, while the average time it takes for local councils to provide housing assistance has ‘soared’.

In Argyll and Bute, the average house price from Q1 2003-04 to Q4 2021-22 has increased from £84,084 to £199,179 – a rise of 137 per cent. In the Highlands, it has increased from £80,625 to £210,958, up 162 per cent. In the Western Isles, it has increased from £52,359 to £160,941, up 207 per cent.

‘Scottish salmon generates more than 2,500 jobs across the Highlands and Islands, and the sector plays a key role in attracting people to come and live and work in coastal communities, while also retaining locals to help to tackle de-population,’ it said.

‘The lack of available, affordable housing is affecting the ability of people to live and work in Highland and Island communities.

‘Scotland’s cluttered licensing regime and planned rent hikes means that more than £20million per year is soon expected to be paid by salmon farmers to various regulators and quangos.

‘At present, salmon farming contributes more than £5m directly to Crown Estate Scotland (CES), or more than a fifth of the quango’s revenues, with this fee set to nearly double.

‘But CES overall revenues are expected to soar from £26million in 2021-22 to £102million in 2022-23 due to ScotWind offshore licensing fees.

‘Net CES revenues are currently handed to the Scottish Government and redistributed across the country. However Salmon Scotland believes that a greater share of aquaculture contributions should be ringfenced to support coastal communities.’

The trade body is calling for government reform to ensure that around £10million is reinvested in rural communities, with a particular focus on housing.

Tavish Scott, chief executive of Salmon Scotland, said: ‘We’re calling for the money raised through salmon farm rents to be reinvested in local communities to address the biggest issue affecting our coastal communities – access to affordable housing.

‘Rather than this money going into a central pot in Edinburgh, seabed rents paid to the Crown Estate should be returned to benefit our coastal communities.’

Noemi Lorenzo-Vidaña started work as a seawater health manager and veterinarian at Mowi Scotland earlier in 2022. She and her partner have searched for months for affordable and reasonable accommodation near Fort William, without success. She is currently having to commute from Aberdeen on a weekly basis.

Noemi said: ‘When I started my new job in aquaculture I was very excited about the new challenge it presented and especially because the Highlands and Islands is such a wonderful area.

‘However, the biggest challenge, and most stressful, has been finding accommodation. The search has been very discouraging because it is affecting me not only on a personal level, but also on a professional level.

‘It’s difficult to be able to put all my energy into work when my situation is so unclear. I really hope I can live and contribute to the local community very soon.’

Tavish Scott added: ‘In many places, salmon farms are keeping the local community and local businesses alive.

‘Our continued success will rest on ensuring professionals like Noemi are able to live and work in the areas where these vital jobs are found.’