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‘We desperately need more homes’ - an economist’s view of Caley Thistle and Inverness housing issues

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By Tony Mackay

Economist Tony Mackay looks at the local housing situation in the wake of Caley Thistle revealing its player accommodation woes.
Economist Tony Mackay looks at the local housing situation in the wake of Caley Thistle revealing its player accommodation woes.

Caley Thistle have stated that one of the main reasons for their decision to relocate their training to Kelty Hearts - 135 miles away in Fife - was difficulty in finding accommodation for their players in the Inverness area.

A question raised by many supporters is why does the club need so many non-local players whom they have to find accommodation for? However, let me first comment on the housing issues.

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There is certainly a serious housing shortage in the Inverness area at the present time because of a big fall in new building during the last few years. I believe there are three main reasons for that:

• the impact of the Covid pandemic

• the Brexit decision to leave the EU

• the impact of high energy prices following the Russian invasion of parts of Ukraine

Two of these reasons have substantially reduced the demand for new houses. Brexit has reduced the supply because the local construction industry has lost a lot of workers from Poland other EU countries.

There are signs that these problems are easing now but it will undoubtedly take a few more years to return to normal.

Caley Thistle state that they have found it very difficult to recruit local footballers and have therefore had to increasingly rely on players from elsewhere in Scotland/UK and from overseas. I have some doubts about that because former manager John Robertson - who lives here - did well recruiting local players.

However, more recent managers such as Duncan Ferguson and Billy Dodds have become very reliant on non-locals, particularly people on loan from other clubs. Coincidentally, perhaps, the club has fallen down the pyramid to League One.

Many non-football businesses have faced similar problems since the Brexit decision. That is particularly true of the tourism and hospitality industries.

The population of the Highlands has fallen in recent years. It has also aged significantly and a large proportion is now not of working age.

As the economy improves, so does the demand for labour. That now means bringing workers into the region.

The hospitality industry can cope quite well because they can usually provide accommodation for some of their new staff. However, other businesses are having difficulties, as Caley Thistle claim.

And what about the Inverness and Cromarty Freeport, who have stated that they will create up to 10,250 local jobs. I believe that number is far too high but even if it is, say, only about 1000, how will they be accommodated?

The companies involved could provide some onsite accommodation at Nigg and Ardersier, as we had many years ago during the oil fabrication period. The use of cruise ships is another possibility.

However, there can be no doubt that the Inverness and Moray Firth region desperately needs a big increase in new housebuilding.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to see that happening. Most of the local housebuilders are small scale and cautious with their investment plans.

Some of the Caley Thistle directors own or run local building companies. They have let the club sink into League One so I doubt if they will help solve the wider problems in the Inverness area. Maybe they will also decide to move to Kelty?

Tony Mackay is an Inverness-based economist.

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