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ARIANE BURGESS: Need for affordable homes is dire

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Highlands and Islands Greens MSP Ariane Burgess.
Highlands and Islands Greens MSP Ariane Burgess.

The need for affordable, accessible and adequate homes continues to be a crucial topic in the Highlands.

Many people struggle to find a home where they want to live, and, if they do, they face unaffordable rents. Things have been made worse, with the cost of energy crisis hitting many of us.

The Scottish Government has a commitment to support local authorities to build more houses and for 70 per cent of them to have affordable rents. But there are challenges, including the lack of skilled people to take up the work and the rising cost of materials.

Then there’s the issue of finding appropriate land for building on. Now that we’ve begun to understand the climate and nature emergencies, we need to reconsider where we build housing.

Does it make sense to build on good agricultural land when we should be growing food closer to home? Is building on peatland when we’re racing to restore peat in other areas counter-productive?

While building more homes is essential it must be part of a range of changes. These changes have to include the regulation of short-term lets and second homes, and steps to bring empty properties back into use.

It was good to hear that Highland Council is having success with its offer to buy houses from people wanting to sell and turning them into affordable rental homes.

Councils are developing their short-term lets licensing schemes, and Highland Council has taken the lead with the decision to implement a short-term let pressure zone in Badenoch and Strathspey. It will take time for us to see the benefit of these actions filtering through but they will set an important precedent.

Housing features in many discussions I have with rural communities. They tell me they are losing community members, young people and families to Inverness and beyond. This steady outflow could mean the loss of these communities. Meanwhile, there’s pressure in Inverness to find places to build housing for those wanting to move there for greater access to jobs and opportunities.

I’ve been working to ensure that there is support from the Scottish Government for rural housing enablers like Community Housing Trust who help communities build housing they desperately need. These solutions take time.

With the First Minister’s announcement of this year’s Programme for Government came the commitment to an immediate rent freeze and a significant ramping up of protections from evictions. In the short-term this emergency bill will make a big difference this winter for people who rent their homes.

Arian Burgess is a Scottish Greens MSP for the Highlands and Islands.

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