Highland MSP champions ‘joint approach’ to tackling rural housing crisis

A Highland MSP has praised local groups for taking a ‘joint approach’ to tackling the rural housing crisis facing North West Sutherland.

Green MSP for the Highlands and Islands Ariane Burgess visited Tongue last week to discuss the issue of rural resettlement with local landowners.

Ariane Burgess MSP – Green

In attendance were representatives from Melness Crofters Estate and Wildlands Estate, as well as the North West 2045 Partnership Project.

In April, the groups confirmed their commitment to work constructively on sustainable development opportunities in and around Tongue, Melness and Skerray – with rural resettlement at the heart of their concerns.

Ms Burgess said: “Each group came to land ownership through different routes, but at our meeting they shared a common concern about how to ensure our North Coast communities thrive.

Ariane Burgess joined the representatives on a visit to the abandoned traveler's house on the Moine.
Ariane Burgess joined the representatives on a visit to the abandoned traveler’s house on the Moine.

“These groups have land and are already taking steps to build affordable housing. This is not always the case with the groups I meet. Having suitable land for housing is essential to even being able to think about how to maintain or increase the population in a place.

“But owning the land is just the first step in a long process and for groups like the Melness Crofters who need the support of housing facilitators like the Community Housing Trust to help them navigate the process.

“The Scottish Government provides the Rural and Island Housing Fund, but it’s only available to applicants once they’ve completed their project and it requires almost £100,000, a hard-to-find amount for community groups. J would like to see this barrier to community managed affordable housing removed.

North West Representatives 2045;  UpNorth!  Community Development Trust, Melness Crofters' Estate and Wildland Ltd met Ariane Burgess MSP in North Sutherland at Le Moine Summit.
North West Representatives 2045; UpNorth! Community Development Trust, Melness Crofters’ Estate and Wildland Ltd met Ariane Burgess MSP in North Sutherland at Le Moine Summit.

Dorothy Pritchard, representing the estate of Melness Crofters and UpNorth! Development Trust, said:

“We welcome Arianne’s visit and her sincere support for our affordable housing development project, which is in its infancy.

“The Community Housing Trust is working with us to complete a feasibility study for the proposed development on land owned by MCE. The construction of new homes will be our first step towards addressing the issues associated with an aging and shrinking population.

“Arianne’s advice and input was much appreciated and we hope to build much needed homes that will be both affordable and energy efficient.

“We are extremely excited about the future prospect of a housing development in Melness, the first in over 20 years and thank the Community Housing Trust for all their hard work and invaluable help without which we would not have come this far. .”

Tim Kirkwood for Wildland Ltd said: “It was helpful to meet Ariane with members of Melness Crofters Estate and NW 2045. Improving and protecting the area’s natural capital, creating new sustainable jobs and providing rural accommodation were common themes among the various initiatives and constructively exchanged views.

“We hope, wherever possible, for a collaborative approach that can produce the necessary results, which will allow the social and economic fabric of the region to thrive, making rural resettlement a reality rather than an aspiration.”

Frances Gunn, President of NW2045, was pleased that the meeting was useful and interesting for all involved, reiterating that the North West 2045 vision was generated to capture the collective ambition of the region and to support a broader cooperation.

She said: “Meetings like these are important to shine a light on the activity going on in our communities, as well as the different ways in which projects are born. We all want to make sure this continues and we are grateful for the interest and hard work of everyone involved in bringing about positive change – locally, regionally and nationally.”


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