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The community of South Harris have today (Friday 16 February) published an open letter to the Scottish Government’s housing minister, Paul McLennan MSP.

In it, South Harris Community Council (SHCC) describes an area ‘on its knees in terms of our ability to both retain our working population and welcome new residents.’

The letter, signed by SHCC chair Donnie Macdonald with the support of three councillors and MSP Alasdair Allan, comes as South Harris awaits a funding decision on a 12-home development planned for Leverburgh.

Land is available, planning permission has been granted and families are desperately awaiting homes, but development partner Hebridean Housing Partnership (HHP) are awaiting a Scottish Government decision on support to meet a funding shortfall, before they can progress the project.

In their open letter, SHCC says: “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 anxious 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.”

Outlining their case, they say: “South Harris is a remote and rural place with high living costs and lower than average income. The area has seen very little economic investment over the last 25 years.

“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 draws attention to a joint report from CnES and HHP which showed South Harris as ‘the only area in the Outer Hebrides where there is strong, compelling, consistent evidence from all sources that local people are being priced out of the market.’

And SHCC puts their case in strong terms, saying: “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 community, we cannot, and should not, bear the ill-effects of the lack of affordable housing any longer.” 

They outline negative impacts caused by housing shortages on education, tourism, the care sector and the voluntary sector and conclude: “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?”

Picture from South Harris Community Council.