The level of grant support available to help crofters build and improve their homes is to be significantly increased, Environment Minister Aileen McLeod announced yesterday.
From April 1, crofters will be able to apply for up to £28,000 under the new Croft House Grant Scheme – and up to £38,000 if they live in island and specified mainland communities.
After considering all the feedback and evidence, the three previous funding rates will be replaced with a new standard level of grant and a higher level for the islands and some mainland areas.
Dr McLeod said: “Good quality housing is essential to help attract and retain people in Scotland’s most remote and rural communities, and to help crofters fulfil their duty of living on or close to their croft.
“The Scottish Government’s Croft House Grant Scheme has invested £14 million to build or improve almost 700 homes since 2007 and the changes I am announcing today will help ensure this support is fit for purpose in the years to come.
“I am pleased to confirm that - despite on-going cuts to our Budget as a result the UK Government’s continuing austerity programme - we are committed to continuing to provide funding for croft houses.
“Clearly, we need to balance the number of grants with the level of funding available which is why each application will be assessed on its merits with support targeted at those most in need. I also intend to review whether the grant levels and geographical areas remain appropriate three years after the scheme comes into operation.
“Our review also revealed an appetite for the return of a loan scheme to help crofters build or improve their homes. This wasn’t among our original consultation proposals and so my officials are investigating the feasibility of introducing such a scheme as a separate piece of work.”
Crofting Commission Chief Executive Catriona Maclean said: “The CHGS provides important financial assistance to attract and retain people in our crofting communities and also in helping crofters to fulfil their duty of living on or close to their croft. The Commission welcomes the revision in payment rates and the flexibility of the scheme to include home improvements and non-croft land. This will ensure that the grant helps crofters in genuine housing need.”
NFU Scotland’s Crofting Highlands and Islands Committee chairman Sandy Murray, a crofter from Sutherland, said: “For the well-being of some of our more remote, rural and island communities, it is in all our interests to see a vibrant crofting sector that is fit for purpose in the 21st century. These positive changes to the Croft House Grant Arrangements are an important part of that process.”
Scottish Crofting Federation chief executive, Patrick Krause, said: “This is a very welcome outcome from the review of the Croft House Grant Scheme. We have been campaigning for a review and for an up-dating of the scheme for many years. The Scottish Government has conducted this consultation exercise in a very participatory and inclusive manner and has clearly listened to what we have said. Those involved are to be commended for this.
“The next part of this process is to review, and we hope, reinstate, the loan element of the scheme. We appreciate that this is not straightforward but have high expectations given the process so far.”Jamie McGrigor, Highlands & Islands Conservative MSP and the Convenor of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross Party Group on Crofting, said:“ I broadly welcome today’s announcement which is long overdue given grant levels have been frozen since 2006, meaning of course that they have been cut significantly in real terms over this period.
“ I also join the SCF and NFUS in welcoming the fact that crofters in some of our more remote mainland districts will be able to access the higher grant level as well as those on our islands; many crofters in some remote mainland areas have argued that the cost of building and providing building supplies in these areas can be just as expensive as for island communities.
“ It is also right that the Scottish Government has pledged to review the level of grants of this new scheme in three years’ time.
“ Finally, I am encouraged that the Scottish Government has restated that it will consider the reintroduction of a croft house loan scheme. This has very broad supporting among crofters and I hope all those new MSPs elected for the Highlands & Islands after the election in May will put pressure on the next Scottish Government to come to a decision on a loan scheme as quickly as possible. Crofters have particular problems accessing mortgage finance for houses and many believe a loan scheme would make a real difference.”
Under the new deal, there will be two rates of grant assistance and some mainland communities, in addition to islands, will be eligible for the higher rate. Details of the eligible mainland communities can be found here: http://www.gov.scot/Topics/farmingrural/Rural/crofting-policy/fragileareasmap;
Two new grant rates for the arrangement should initially be set at £28,000 (standard rate) and £38,000 (higher rate) for new house builds;
Each application should be individually assessed to determine if it is fit for purpose, rather than cap the cost of a house build;
Applicants will be eligible to claim up to 40 per cent of the total improvement costs, to the maximum of £28,000 or £38,000, dependent on the geographical area; and
The introduction of a selection mechanism for the arrangements to ensure that support is targeted at those most in need