Rural campaigners have launched the first bid in Scotland to build homes specifically for local workers to halt a crippling population drain which threatens the fabric of their island community.

The Arran Economic Group (AEG) is set for a crunch meeting this Friday with Scottish Government officials as it tries to access £8 million funding to build homes for people with jobs on the island.

The group says that many workers in vital professions and everyday jobs can no longer afford to settle there because of the high cost of property and the lack of available of homes. 

A huge proportion of the houses on Arran, which has a population of around 5,000, have been bought as second homes by incomers and retirees, pushing up prices and creating a crisis as young workers move away.

In one example the AEG said that the island has four villages now known as “Dark Villages”, where more than 80 per cent of the houses are second homes.
The group wants to build 43 homes which will be allocated specifically on economic rather than social need, and would only be available to workers on the island.

A further 15 self-build plots will be made available under the plan. 
Money would come from the Scottish Government’s £30m Rural and Islands Housing Fund, which was set up three years ago to provide grants and loans to groups building homes in areas where there is housing market pressure.
Sheena Borthwick, general manager for the AEG, said they had been making slow but substantial progress and that if money is made available it could take around eight months for the scheme to become a reality.

Ms Borthwick said: “Three years ago the group got together to assess what Arran needed to maintain its economy. We looked at a wide range of things – infrastructure, communities, housing being some examples. 

“We realised very quickly that the biggest problem facing the island was housing and it had to be fixed before everything else. There’s simply just not enough housing for people who are working normal jobs and we are talking about the whole spectrum of things you need for a community – from doctors and teachers to care workers and cleaners.”  

At 22 per cent Arran has one of the highest rates of housing used for holiday or second homes in the UK, second only to St Ives in Cornwall, where one-quarter of properties are holiday homes.

The average house price is £285,000, while the average wage is only £24,000. The AEG estimates that earnings of £42,285 are required to get on the housing ladder.

A study carried out by the group warns that the lack of housing for workers will have serious impacts on the island’s population as time goes on, with 94 jobs being lost due to lack of affordable accommodation each year with a £3.4m loss to the local economy.  

After 10 years, if things remain as they are, the employment impacts are expected to have risen to 116 jobs lost and a £3.91m shortfall per annum. 

Ms Borthwick added: “There are job vacancies right across the island we can’t fill because there’s nowhere for them to stay. What we want to do is build houses that people want to live in.” North Ayrshire Council – the local authority for Arran – is also building new homes on the island to try to alleviate the problem. 

Councillor Jim Montgomerie, Cabinet Member for Place, said the significant growth in the short-term lets market was causing particular problems.

He added: “We know that second homes have an inflationary effect on housing markets, and this effect has been magnified on Arran where increasing access to affordable housing is particularly challenging because of land availability, land values, and high construction costs. We are preparing to begin construction of 34 new council homes on the island and while this new development won’t eliminate the problem, it will be an important step towards addressing the issue.”