Scottish Greens minister Patrick Harvie was in Lewis this week, taking the opportunity to do some on-the-ground research into public transport and the regeneration of empty homes.
The Scottish Government coalition minister for zero carbon buildings, active travel and tenants’ rights was in the islands with a busy programme reviewing active travel initiatives and improvements in the use of empty homes.
During his time in Lewis Mr Harvie also visited the Embark cycling project co-ordinated by Third Sector Hebrides, and he reached the islands by bus to Ullapool, spending some of his voyage on the MV Loch Seaforth being shown around the bridge by CalMac staff.
A report published this month by the Scottish Government-backed Scottish Empty Homes Partnership (SHEP) showed that, in 2021-22, the Western Isles had 596 long-term empty homes, with 462 of these standing empty for more than 12 months, and some for years.
In their report, SHEP said: “We know that the longer a home remains empty the harder it becomes to bring it back to use. The property may suffer from deterioration, making it less aesthetically appealing to potential owners.
“Buyers can be put off by the overgrown gardens, flaking paint on windows and cracked roof tiles that are just the early signs of a long-term empty home.
“Every empty home has been a home for someone in the past and could potentially be a home for someone again in the future.
“By working to support renovation of suitable empty homes and returning them back to use, local authorities can help to breathe new life into old homes, improving the quality of housing stock and improving the quality of life in the communities with empty stock.”
On Tuesday (24 May) Mr Harvie met the new owners of a home which has stood empty for over 70 years and heard from them and from Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s empty homes officer Murdo Macleod of their plans for the future.
Mr Harvie said: “Bringing empty homes back into use is a critical part of our effort to ensure everyone has a warm, safe home.
“I met the owners of this croft house on Lewis, empty for 75 years and about to become a home again.”
Karis and her partner David got in touch with Murdo after receiving a flyer about the service with their Council Tax bill.
While the property they have purchased will need significant effort to bring it back into use, Murdo has helped with advice on VAT, additional discounts from local companies and information to progress a property survey.
Karis said: "Undertaking a large-scale renovation of an old croft house is daunting, and having a locally-based empty homes officer to offer guidance in those initial stages was crucial.
“Murdo helped steer us in the right direction to get the project off the ground and offered support in favour of renovating over a new build which will, once completed, mean a traditional property is brought back in to use…breathing life back into its walls once more."
Pictures show Patrick Harvie on the bridge of the Loch Seaforth with skipper Andy Grant and hearing of Karis and David’s plans at their old croft house (Patrick Harvie MSP).