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A total of 133 homes are under construction in November (2022) throughout the Islands as part of the public-sector drive to improve housing availability 

That's according to the latest update from Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. 

They say that since the end of March 2022, 42 homes have been completed and a further 133 are under construction.

The developments below are either underway or at various land stages:

  • Gleann Mor, Barvas – 8 homes for rent – completed April 2022

  • Johnstone Court, Balivanich – 10 homes for rent – completed May 2022
  • Bremner Court, Goathill – 50 Housing with Extra Care – on site

  • Sinclair Avenue, Goathill – 16 shared equity homes – 13 sold, 1 house with buyer identified and 2 new homes completed in the final phase  
  • Sinclair Avenue, Goathill – 58 homes for rent – final phase complete and 58 homes handed over
  • Rathad na Ceardaich, Barra – 6 homes for rent – on site
  • Lochmaddy – 8 homes for rent – awaiting land transaction
  • Blackwater, Stornoway – Phase 1 – 74 homes for rent – contractor now on site and completing groundworks
  • Crowlista – 5 homes for rent – contractor on site
  • Leverburgh – 6 homes for rent – TIG have been engaged to start planning permission to determine suitability for land acquisition
  • Low Flyer, Balivanich, Phase 2 – possible additional 4 units to be progressed to tender

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar say that next year (2023) should see our plans for more homes in Harris advance with the first phase of development at Scott Road, Tarbert, of 14 homes for social rent, with the land transaction negotiation currently underway.

With the addition of the Leverburgh development mentioned above, that should total 20 new homes in Harris.

CnES say they have had no success in finding suitable land, as yet, in South Uist, but there are three full feasibility studies underway at the moment: one site in North Uist,  one site in South Lochs, and one site in Bernera.

Iain MacMillan, who chairs the Hebridean Housing Partnership, said:“Seeing the first digger on a housing site is at the end of a very long process with a series of small steps and collaborative work between HHP and multiple stakeholders including landowners, lawyers, crofters, various council officers and departments and consultants.

"These small steps although not publicly advertised are testament to our ongoing commitment to broadly align our New Build programme with the Council’s Strategic Housing Investment Plan.”

CnES point out that it takes a considerable length of time from the identification of land and a spade cutting the ground, to the keys of a new home being handed over to a tenant or homeowner.  

"We often struggle to get offers of suitable land, so when we are offered land from a member of the public, or following a Call for Sites, the first step we take is to assess how easy the ground might be to develop.

"Upon first glance, the ground might seem perfect: it might be near shops or the local school, it might be well placed for a bus route, or it might be in a location that several HHP applicants have identified as a place they would like to live. However, it is not until we carry out technical assessments that we are able to assess the feasibility – the ease and ability – of developing the site.

"Sometimes the ground condition can be very rocky, it might be too boggy, or it might be peatland which has both depth issues plus issues surrounding the preservation of carbon stores.  In these scenarios the cost of making the ground suitable and safe for development is often too great for the site to be feasible, as we have a “unit cost” to consider – this is how much grant money Scottish Government will allocate for each home that is built.

"So, when a site is identified or offered, in the first instance it is added to our Land Availability List. We then consult with Planning Policy and Planning Application teams on the initial suitability of the land. We inform HHP about the outcome of the initial assessment and a decision is taken to move to full feasibility if the area is included in the Strategic Housing Investment Plan (SHIP) – this means there are a number of applicants who have told HHP they want to live in this area and their names are on the Waiting List. (This is really important so HHP can gauge demand in different areas!)

"Full feasibility involves further assessment of ground conditions by Tighean Innse Gall (TIG) – they might open, for example, trial pits to assess the ground. We will also consider access to the site and amenities – water, sewerage, electricity, broadband, mobile phone coverage and so on, as part of the assessment. If these factors come back positive and costs are within Scottish Government unit cost allocation, the site would be added to the Development Plan.

"In order to build homes formal planning permission is required and a contractor must be appointed. If the land is within crofting tenure, it will take a number of months to be decrofted before any planning permissions may be sought. The land must be owned before any development can commence so this stage can often take a considerable time.

"Appointing a contractor may take several months as tender applications must first be submitted, then assessed and scored to ensure best value. The planning stage may also take several months as there are statutory timescales to adhere to depending on the number of homes that are going to be built.

"Once contractor and planning consent is in place works may progress. A handover date will be agreed between the contractor and HHP and regular meetings will be held between all parties: HHP, Scottish Government, the contractor, the Comhairle, and TIG.

"Between February and September this year, 25 assessments of land were carried out and of these, only 12 were deemed as having potential. When a piece of land is rejected by us for development, it may still be suitable for a private housebuilder as they might be able to raise more funds than we have available for affordable housing. If the area has been included in the SHP, however, we will continue to look for land in the area that is more suitable for development.

"It is very important for us to understand where homes are needed, and what kind of homes are needed. If you need an affordable home and your name is on HHP’s Waiting List, that is one way to determine need and demand for affordable homes. Another is to carry out surveys on housing need. We carry out a formal assessment of housing need called the Housing Need and Demand Assessment (HNDA) every five years, but smaller surveys can also be carried out periodically.

"Two such surveys have been carried out recently; one for housing need experienced in the business community and one for housing need experienced by individuals. There were 144 responses from individuals and 38 responses from organisations and the responses are currently being analysed."

The outcome of the surveys will feed into the Housing Need and Demand Assessment 2023-2028 and the Local Housing Strategy 2023-2028.

The Housing Need and Demand Assessment 2023-2028 is due to be submitted to the Scottish Government in February 2023.

Councillor Donald Crichton, Chair of the Sustainable Development Committee, said:“We were very encouraged by the response to the two surveys, and we are very grateful to all those who took the time to respond. Having a warm, well-insulated home that you can afford to live in is a fundamental requirement to having a decent quality of life, particularly in such times of economic uncertainty, and it is important for the Comhairle and all our partners to have honest feedback from people in our communities about their housing situation.”