STAFFIN Community Trust has taken an important step in realising its aim of building new affordable houses, 17 years after the last homes were built in the area.
SCT has signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with two respected housing bodies to work together and progress plans for a six-unit development, which could also provide space for local businesses. SCT has worked closely for almost two years with the Lochalsh and Skye Housing Association (LSHA) and the Highlands Small Communities Housing Trust (HSCHT) in investigating potential suitable sites in Staffin.
It comes after HSCHT published a report in 2014 into the local housing situation which highlighted that Staffin was losing residents through a lack of suitable and affordable housing for young people and families and the prohibitive cost of buying on the open market.
SCT subsequently held a local “Call for Sites” and assessed several locations. It has identified a central flat site on the Stenscholl Common Grazing, close to Staffin Primary School and all the other main shops and services, as its preferred development site and is now looking to draw up detailed designs and progress towards a full planning application.
The Stenscholl Township supports the development site, in principle, and local families have already indicated their interest to SCT in the proposed new homes. MSPs Kate Forbes (Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch) and David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) have also backed the project. It is proposed that each organisation would build and own two of the houses, which would be available for a mixed tenure scheme, including affordable rent or rent-to-buy.
SCT, LSHA and HSCHT have agreed the MOA, which sets out the framework for co-operation between the three parties and are now working on a comprehensive Development Agreement. SCT is seeking funding for the process and is also keen to clarify the exact demand from within the Staffin community – and outwith – for business units/offices/storage at the site. It could be sole traders who currently work from home seeking office space, or public authorities requiring a Staffin facility, etc When SCT had a major community consultation several years ago to identify local priorities residents had identified the provision of office space in the community as being an issue. SCT is now keen to determine what level of demand there is, if any, before developing site plans. Posters will be distributed throughout the community and expressions of interest should be submitted by October 10.
SCT wants to see at least 10 new affordable homes built in Staffin by 2020 and hopes that could help increase the school roll by 10 pupils. The last affordable homes built in Staffin were at the site of the former school in 1999. The school roll has dropped from a high of more than 50 pupils around 10 years ago to only 14 children. SCT is aware of families leaving Staffin to move to Portree for housing.
A recent economic report recently carried out for SCT found that Staffin’s resident population had plummeted by 5 per cent (30 people less) between 2009 and 2013. Meanwhile, the population of Portree – which is 30 minutes’ drive south of Staffin and has had significant housing developments built in recent years – grew by 11 per cent in the last decade.
SCT chairman Donald MacDonald said: “The Trust has invested a huge amount of time in this project which we see as being essentially to the long-term viability of the community and the local services. The site identified is by far the best option available and we are determined to push this project forward as quickly as possible before the school roll declines further and we face the potential threat of losing our local primary. We hope that these houses will be occupied by young families and welcome expressions of interest. There is also an opportunity for a business unit to be located beside the houses, which could be used by artists, craft workers or tradesmen and again we are interested to hear from anyone who is looking for facilities within the community.”
HSCHT chief executive Ronnie MacRae said: “We are excited to be involved and about the potential this project has to assist and regenerate Staffin, not only on a housing front, but also economically and socially. By providing a small development on a centrally located site that isn’t using valuable crofting land, the project fits really well with so many initiatives and current policy direction of travel at Scottish Government by supporting community empowerment and capacity building to make communities stronger and more resilient in the long term.”
Lachie MacDonald, chief executive of Lochalsh and Skye Housing Association, said: “Lochalsh and Skye Housing Association is fully committed to assisting the Staffin Community Trust in their ambition to increase the supply of affordable housing in the Staffin area. We are in dialogue with the trust as to the most appropriate location for a development and also the housing mix that they wish to achieve. Once these discussions are concluded we can hopefully move towards submitting a formal planning application and take the development forward from there”.
Ms Forbes said: “Housing is one of the single biggest reasons for depopulation in the Highlands, and nowhere more so than in Staffin. Rather than sit by and watch population numbers sink, the Staffin Community Trust have explored options for affordable housing. Their grit and determination has paid off and I am so pleased to their plans progressing. I fully support the Trust’s efforts and I hope that all stakeholders will work together to ensure that 10 new affordable homes are delivered by 2020. I think that this project is critical to the future of the Staffin community.”
Mr Stewart said: “I visited the site during the summer recess and I am totally supportive of the venture. I realise that there is a need for affordable housing in Staffin to keep it a vibrant and sustainable community and the proposed site is just a short distance from the primary school which makes it part of the village. I realise that this is a very important scenic area but I don’t feel that this small development will encroach in any way.”