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South Harris community plea for Government funds for vital housing

Delays to the release of funding for new houses in Leverburgh have compelled the South Harris community council to write an urgent letter to housing minister Paul McLennan.


Almost six years into the project, an expected government contribution to costs is still to be confirmed, with the delay thought to be partly due to consideration of the higher per unit cost that comes with rural projects. Members of the community, local organisations and elected representatives have come together to send the letter appealing directly to Mr McLennan and making a case for immediate support .


South Harris's vibrant community is under threat unless there is more housing for its members (photo: South Harris Show. Susan Rasmussen)

It says “Our community is on its knees in terms of our ability to both retain our working population and welcome new residents, and that is down to a serious lack of affordable housing.”


The letter, reproduced in full below, is just one strand of a tireless campaign to secure the necessary funding. It is hoped that individual members of the community and businesses will add their voices in the days ahead.


The letter was sent on 16th February. At time of going to press, the community council

had yet to receive a reply.


*** Add your voice to the call for housing for Harris

The more people who share their views on this matter, the more likely it is that action will follow: Send your email to Paul McLennan MSP at

Quote reference number 202400398846.




A letter to Mr Paul McLennan from South Harris Community Council and supporters


Dear Mr McLennan,


We write on behalf of the South Harris community with an urgent plea.

The Scottish Government is currently considering the unit price and any remaining funding shortfall for a 12 house development by the Hebridean Housing Partnership at Leverburgh, South Harris. This development is the key to our future and the very survival of our community.


We appreciate the very significant funding on offer to the Western Isles to build social rented housing and are anx-ious to see this money used to the full, in fragile areas like Harris.


While we appreciate it is for the Comhairle and Housing Association to take decisions about where individual houses are built, we are writing to reinforce the position of the South Harris community and to outline why the Leverburgh Housing project must go ahead, and without any further delay.


As an area, we are a part of the Western Isles island chain, with a population of 866 people. South Harris is a remote and rural place with high living costs and lower than average income. The area has seen very little eco-nomic investment over the last 25 years. Just 54 percent of our community are of working age (16-64) which is significantly below the national average. Thirty four per-cent of our population are over 65.


Our community is on its knees in terms of our ability to both retain our work-ing population and welcome new residents, and that is down to a serious lack of affordable housing. We would like to draw your attention to a report titled “Outer Heb-rides Housing Need and Demand Assessment 23/24 – 27/28”, collated jointly by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and Hebridean Housing Partnership where it is quoted at 2.10.4, bullet point 5 “The only area in the Outer Hebri-des where there is strong, compelling, consistent evi-dence from all sources that local people are being priced out of the market is South Harris.” In simple terms, our ability to survive our current position and be able to pro-vide homes for the generations to come is dependent on urgent approval from the Scottish Government for the 12 house project at Leverburgh, South Harris.


It is almost 70 years since the last affordable housing was built in Leverburgh. We have watched, for too many years, as governments have come and gone, as funding has been allocated and spent, in almost every area of the Western Isles apart from our own.


The wait for affordable housing has gone on too long and has cost us greatly. Any further delay will very likely be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. As a comunity, we cannot, and should not, bear the ill-effects of the lack of affordable housing any longer.


There are so many reasons why this development must go ahead. Almost every sector of our small but vibrant com-munity is negatively impacted by the lack of affordable housing and these include but are not exclusive to:


Education

The school is the heart of any village and it is no different in Leverburgh. We have a small but excellent school and nursery facility. At just 18 pupils (ranging from ages 2-11), the school roll is a cause for concern. Without a school in the village, our children are looking at a daily 44 mile round trip. There is no doubt that the addition of afforda-ble housing in the area would result in a sustainable school roll for the future.


Local Businesses & Industry

In addition to an increasing level of tourism, our local economy comprises of a variety of small businesses and industries. The lack of affordable housing inhibits the abil-ity of local businesses to survive and expand. Vacancies are often advertised multiple times before being filled and some are not filled at all. Many attract applicants, who on realising they are unable to source affordable accommo-dation, are forced to withdraw. Only half our population are of working age. It is imperative, in order for business-es to simply function, that this number increases. Afford-able housing is the main solution to this problem.


Care Sector

We are fortunate to have a 16 bed care home in the area which is also a main employer locally. It is no secret that the facility has struggled consistently with regards the filling of vacancies. With 34% of our population being over 65, the pressure on our care sector is intensifying. Our earnest hope is that with the addition of 12 new affordable houses will go some way to alleviate the cur-rent staffing crises.


Voluntary/Third sector

The voluntary/third sector is a fundamental element of day-to-day life in South Harris and with local authority purse strings being tighter than ever, it is soon set to be-

come overstretched. With the area having had very little public investment in the last 20+ years, the voluntary sec-tor has been left to shoulder this burden and it has not been easy with many committees and individuals over-stretched and under-supported.


There is, however, the potential of a very bright future for South Harris. Lever-hulme Community Hub has recently completed a £1.2m refurbishment of a former school, part funded by the Scottish Government’s Regeneration Capital Grant Fund and other Government programmes. However, to reach its full potential, the Hub requires a strong community living here year-round to use and support its facility, as well as to work and volunteer within it. Many other groups are in the same position. Hebrides People, the internationally renowned genealogy centre is currently embarking on a £6m expansion. This is being driven for-ward by a small number of staff and a voluntary board of directors. The project will require new employees to make it a success. In addition to local groups and support services, we have emergency services locally (Fire, RNLI Lifeboat and Coastguard) who are made up of volunteers. All services are stretched to their limits and continually in need of more volunteers.


Letters of support for the project from some of the above-mentioned sectors of our community have already been presented to HHP and CNES and can be made available to you if required.


If this project does not happen due to it being deemed too costly, what precedent does that set for rural housing in other needy areas in the Western Isles or indeed wider rural Scotland.


Further to the above, we would like to cordially invite you to visit South Harris to show what a lifeline this project will be to the community.


Yours sincerely,

Donnie MacDonald, Chair of South Harris Community Council


With the support of:

- Alasdair Allan MSP

Cllr Norman MacDonald, Vice-Chair of Sustainable

Development Committee

- Cllr Grant Fulton - Harris

- Cllr Paul Finnegan - Harris



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