A housing promise delivered

The council party visit the new council houses in Brathwic Terrace.

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Last week North Ayrshire Council leader Councillor Joe Cullinane was over on the island with Chief Executive Craig Hatton and Councillor Alex Gallagher meeting with a range of groups as well as attending the meeting with Transport Minister Graeme Dey and hosting a virtual meeting with Cabinet Secretary for the Islands Mairi Gougeon. Here is Councillor Cullinane’s personal view of the visit.

 

After almost 18 months of meeting groups on the island regularly on Microsoft Teams and Zoom, it was great to finally get back to Arran last week.


The Arran Outdoor Centre has been at the heart of the island’s response to Covid-19.

It was great to catch up with the team, face-to-face, to discuss their experience of supporting the islands communities throughout the pandemic and to look to the future where they hope to be able to welcome schools back for their residential week soon.

We had an excellent meeting with Arran Eco Savvy, a group that is a great asset to the island.

As a council we have set ambitious climate targets to be a net-zero region by 2030 and Arran Eco Savvy share that ambition.


It was exciting to be discussing ambitions ranging from community-owned renewable energy, low-carbon transport solutions, to making the island’s housing stock more energy efficient.

The council are here to facilitate and enable groups like Eco Savvy to drive change from the ground up and we have taken away a long list of actions to explore opportunities to work with Eco Savvy going forward.

Straight after meeting Arran Eco Savvy, Alex Gallagher (my islands cabinet member) and I travelled over to visit Arran Youth Foundation.

They are the first group on the island to benefit from my administration’s community investment fund, a fund that we created to support community-led initiatives.

Their mental health project, run in association with the high school, is up and running and it was great to hear it’s already making a positive impact.

Whilst at the youth foundation, we answered young people’s questions. The session was with the eco committee and the questions mainly centred around climate change but the many challenges that young people on the island face were raised.

The irony of one young woman asking about the island’s poor evening bus services only to be followed by a mass exodus from the group as they went to catch the last bus that could take them home, at around 5pm, was not lost on me.

There was widespread support amongst the group for our ambitions to bring our bus services under council ownership, to be run in the interests of local communities not profit.

Whilst on the island, I was keen to visit Woodside Farm in Kildonan. Woodside Farm is a social enterprise that uses organic farming methods to produce seasonal food.

During the first lockdown, Woodside Farm helped to support the island’s community to access fresh food and now it is supplying local produce for the council’s school meals on the island.

This is exactly what community wealth building is all about – using the council’s procurement spend to support local businesses, and where possible to support social enterprises and other forms of progressive business ownership models.

We couldn’t go to Arran and not visit Brathwic Terrace – the first council houses to be built on the island for decades.

As island residents, you are acutely aware how challenging housing on the island is – your average house price is over £100,000 more than the Scottish average; your private rented sector is expensive and volatile as landlords can make more money from holiday lets during peak periods and over 600 of the islands homes are second homes.

All this, combined with an economy reliant on the tourism and hospitality sectors, which have traditionally been seasonal and are predominantly low paid, has made housing unaffordable for too many young people and workers on the island.

The council’s development at Brathwic Terrace, which is nearly complete, will provide 34 new council houses on the island and my administration’s local letting initiative means that the majority of the houses have been allocated to island residents, helping us tackle the problems outlined above.

The rents are the same as those the council charges on the mainland, resulting in the lowest rents you will find anywhere on the island, whilst the energy efficiency measures that the council includes in our new build houses, such as solar panels, means that the homes will be some of the most energy efficient and low carbon on the island.

We hadn’t arranged it in advance, but whilst on the island we had the opportunity to speak to someone who has been allocated one of the houses.

Listening to what the new house meant to him, and his wife, was an excellent moment for us all as it demonstrated the difference building council houses on the island will make.

In advance of the last council elections, I had promised that any administration led by me would build council houses on Arran. And we have delivered on that promise.

Last week, in many of the conversations we had over the two days, I was clear – under my leadership, North Ayrshire Council will build more council houses on Arran.

We will tackle this systemic problem for the island’s communities and economy.