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Every now and again, people pause in their daily lives to wonder what their Government - both local and national - is actually doing.

And sometimes governments turn to involve people in decisions, asking what it is they should be doing. 

And for Uist, this is one of this times. The Uist Repopulation Zone Working Group say they are keen to understand the local communities’ views of the related Draft Action Plan to identify any gaps, priorities, needs and wants. 

Accordingly, a series of consultations will take place between 6-9 February 2023 throughout Uist "to engage with the community, businesses and stakeholders to assist in shaping actions needed to encourage people to stay in Uist or move to the islands."

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar is urging as many as possible to take part in the consultations, either online or in-person (or both), to ensure all views are gathered and identified.

Of course, there are some who would say that what's needed is utterly obvious as it has been for at least two decades. And that is reliable ferry services - or maybe even tunnels; a double-track main road from Berneray to Eriskay; and more affordable places for people to live. That would enable business and employment to thrive. 

But nonetheless in late 2020 the Convention of the Highlands and Islands was presented witrhg a report on population and fragile communities which identified – along with Caithness, Argyll & Bute and North Ayrshire – that the Outer Hebrides was an area of acute challenge. 

Consequently, along with the other three local authorities, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the Scottish Government sought to explore options and approaches around population issues and began articulating ideas and actions around the concept of “Repopulation Zones”. 

After analysis and assessment, Uist was identified as the initial Repopulation Zone pilot in the Outer Hebrides. 

Whilst short-term initiatives will support the community immediately, it is the longer-term measures that also need to be addressed and tackled now to benefit in the future, the group says. 

The Uist Repopulation Action Zone Draft Plan has been developed to enable priorities to be set to deliver these sustainable outcomes at a local level and can be found on the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar website.

The plan says: "To deliver sustainable outcomes a menu of tools will be required to drive innovation and to build new approaches specifically targeted on population issues and specifically tailored to the geography.

"Learnings will be different in each Repopulation Zone and that will offer the opportunity for each Zone to cascade learning between Zones and beyond that out into the Highlands and Islands and wider across Scotland.

"The interventions proposed in this plan follow the above principles are based around five critical areas of activity (with the initial focus on the first three):

  • Housing
  • Jobs
  • Critical Infrastructure – especially Digital and Transport
  • Access to Services – health, education, childcare etc.
  • Talent Attraction and Retention

Some sceptical observers might suggest that they thought the governments should have known all this already – and made far more progress long ago.  But better late than never!

Councillor Paul Steele, Leader of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, said: ‘This is a great opportunity for the people of Uist to share their ideas on the different ways we can encourage people to stay or move to the islands. 

"It’s a topic we’ve discussed for a number of years and there are some excellent suggestions from within the community. 

"Please come along to the events and share your thoughts so that the Action Plan has the best chance of achieving positive outcomes that will help address our demographic and repopulation challenges." 

You are invited to come along and make your views known at either of the following:

  • Monday 6th February -  Balivanich Hall 6.30-8pm 
  • Tuesday 7th February - Carinish Hall 2-3.30 pm and Lochmaddy Hall from 6.30–8pm
  • Wednesday 8th February - Southend Hall from 6.30-8pm
  • Thursday 9th February -  Iochdar Hall 2–3.30pm

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