IN many ways the island of Arran is “Scotland in Miniature.” From its rolling highlands in the north to the lowlands in the south, it captures much of the country’s exceptional beauty and nature.

However, as a report showed last week, not all of its “exceptionalism” is necessarily positive. Some 25% of Arran’s total housing stock is registered as empty and/or second homes – the highest proportion in Scotland according to a briefing from the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe).

There is a crisis around a lack of affordable housing crisis, which every Arran priority survey and study since 2008 has identified as the biggest constraint on economic development. This shortage is the primary cause of young and working-age migration, and the primary prevention of inward migration.

The affordable housing crisis on Arran is getting worse. Its public services, year-round quality tourism product and economic/community sustainability are now under real and measurable threat. Job vacancies within the health and social care, education and hospitality sectors are at record levels and cannot be filled due to a lack of affordable accommodation required for the workforce.

Are second and empty homes on the island the cause of the affordable housing crisis?

They certainly exacerbate the problem. The fact that on average 25% of the housing stock is recognised as second or empty – the figure reaches up to 47% in some villages – creates rent inflation and a severe lack of long-term private rentals.

The primary problem is the chronic lack of affordable homes built on Arran over the last 20 years. Only 11% of Arran’s housing stock is available for affordable rent compared to 24% in the rest of Scotland. North Ayrshire Council provides 72% of social housing in its area but only 9% on Arran. This is important because Arran’s affordable housing providers charge as much as 28% more in rent than the council. So, if you are lucky enough to secure an affordable house on Arran, it is likely to cost considerably more than on the mainland.

The Scottish Island Plan advocates that islanders should have the same opportunities as people on the mainland. Currently on Arran, they do not, and it is painfully obvious and felt in every Arran pocket or purse.

Private rents and house prices on Arran are also affected by strong demand for short-term holiday lets, creating an average house price of £273,000, twice the average of mainland of North Ayrshire. High house prices and demand for holiday lets mean low availability and high prices in the private rented sector.

During the winter months of October to March each year, private lets are sometimes available for locals but as the tourist season approaches tenants are forced to move out, in effect becoming homeless, as the property owner can make much more money through tourist season short-term rentals. No security of tenure, loss of employment due to no fixed abode and emotional upheaval all add to the housing crisis.

Most island jobs are in tourism, agriculture, manufacturing and health and social care, and are modestly paid. Workers cannot afford to buy a property and both local people and those aspiring to move to the island for work are unable to find suitable and affordable housing. In terms of affordability and based on average incomes, Arran is on a par with London at nine times the average salary required to purchase a home.

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The Arran Development Trust knows it will take considerable time to create sufficient, available affordable housing and so remedial action is required now to mitigate the worst impacts of the crisis. This can run in parallel to an urgent building programme. There is currently no plan in place to fix Arran’s problems, from local or central government. The community is told work is ongoing at both levels but as yet, there is no tangible output.

Why has the problem not been fixed?

It is logistically difficult and considerably more expensive to build on islands, as highlighted by a recent exercise by the Arran Development Trust.

An old and entirely unreliable ferry service is the only way to deliver construction supplies, causing delays and weather/mechanical-related cancellations. Overnight accommodation is required for contractors and finding contractors willing to work on an island is also a real challenge. Normally only one in four will quote for a job their willingness to take it on is reflected in the overall cost of the job.

Quite simply, it is much easier and faster to build more houses on a lower fixed-price budget in towns and cities where there is an abundance of available competitive contractors and of course, that is where the largest number of electoral votes can be found.

The challenge of Arran’s lack of affordable housing has been put into the “too hard” pile for far too long and needs to be addressed urgently, which is why communities are now taking matters into their own hands.

The Arran Development Trust (ADT) is made up of 420 members from a population of around 4500, so represents 10% of the population and one of the largest community-led groups in Scotland. All members joined with a single purpose of solving the affordable housing problem. The directors are voluntary, are appointed annually at the AGM and have a passionate belief in community solutions.

Over the last few years, despite delays caused by Covid and identifying and securing private finance funding routes and working through the various long and laborious grant application processes, the ADT has still managed to contribute to the North Ayrshire Council SHIP (Strategic Housing Investment Plan), increasing the numbers of homes required immediately from zero to 54.

This has resulted in North Ayrshire Council building and completing 34 new affordable homes in Brodick, the first in a generation. The ADT has also contributed to a redesign of the NAC Allocations and Local Lettings Initiative specific to Arran, which awards additional points and priority for key workers and folks already resident on the island. This is a good first step, but more work is required.

The ADT has secured the necessary funding and permissions and is about to start construction of 18 one, two and three-bedroom homes in the Lamlash area. In addition, through the ADT, the community has made it clear that the solution should not all be about social housing. A choice is required as one size does not fit all.

In answer to the growing aspiration to “self-build”, the ADT will offer 25 heavily discounted serviced plots for sale. These plots will be affordable and will carry a Rural Housing Burden, which means the homes built on them must be principal residences and not second or holiday homes in perpetuity.

Thus a protection will remain for owners/residents on the island and ensure as far as possible that the environment causing the current housing crisis is prevented from happening again.

The ADT also has a right of pre-emption to purchase, should these homes be offered for sale in the future.

The work of the ADT will always be driven by the views and opinions of the Arran community and it will continue to engage with and be involved in other housing and infrastructure projects around the island as and when required.

How does the community fix the problem from the island’s perspective?

By connecting private, public and third-sector groups to figure out how many affordable houses are required to maintain public services, economic development and population.

In addition, there is a need to make it much simpler and quicker for island community groups to access affordable housing funds and to look at innovative solutions such as “transit housing” including the use of innovative carbon-neutral, prefabricated, quick build, off-grid housing stock until more permanent homes can be constructed.

The ADT wants to consider making Arran a Short-term Let Control Area to ensure the needs of the local population and of visitors are always balanced.

How does the community pay for the additional island cost?

The ADT wants to use a perceived disadvantage to our island’s advantage. On the one hand, second and empty homes exacerbate the problem. On the other hand, they have a long history on Arran which is now out of balance but they do contribute to tourist revenue and council tax income.

The ADT wants to use income from the 25% of second-home stock income to create an “Arran Affordable Housing Fund”. Second homes on Arran represent 40% of all the second homes in North Ayrshire. The fund could be used for short-term rent support for critical works and provide additional funds for strategic housebuilding.

The National: Lamlash on the island of ArranLamlash on the island of Arran

Council tax income from second homes on Arran was approximately £879,000 during the financial year 2021/22. In addition, there were 139 homes on Arran paying business rates. Changes in policy and rules could add another £200,000 to the Arran Affordable Housing fund.

To be clear, Arran should still receive its share of local authority, central government and housing association funding, but the fund would provide a welcome top-up to cover the inevitable incremental island costs. The Arran community would benefit directly, as currently it does not.

This approach is non-confrontational and less divisive, and has the benefit of showing how second homes can contribute directly to providing affordable homes to the community and to reducing the friction between second homeowners and locals looking for affordable homes.

The ADT wishes to pursue this collaborative approach rather than the more confrontational one used in other locations. It believes this approach will work but will continue to look at the effectiveness of other more radical approaches around the UK. Hopefully, the ADT can avoid recommending their deployment and leave the pitchforks in the cupboard for the time being.

Compiled with information provided by the Arran Development Trust, a non-profit making organisation, which has been established to do everything possible to improve the housing situation, including building affordable homes. Tom Tracey and Sheena Borthwick-Toomey are the organisation’s chairman and operations director respectively