Housing crisis deepens following post pandemic accommodation surge

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Arran’s housing crisis is under the spotlight again with a huge surge in demand, far outstripping the supply required to support the working population needed to rebuild the island’s economy following the pandemic.

The shortage of affordable housing, both to buy and rent, has been further exacerbated by a buoyant housing market which has increased by almost 10 per cent in the last 12 months, making the average house price on Arran £282,620 – far above the national average of £161,401.

According to estate agents, Savills: ‘There has been a surge in new enquiries for housing and land on the island during the global lockdown period as purchasers reassess their life priorities, seeking spacious homes in rural settings that enable them to enjoy an abundance of outdoor space in scenic surroundings, allowing for a more relaxed pace of life. This has put further pressure on the supply of housing, particularly for local residents and workers.’

Soaring prices, combined with low island salaries, has meant that lower priced houses have become scarcer and even more unaffordable for island workers. Local renters and potential purchasers also face the additional difficulties of competing with owners and landlords who stand to earn far more by turning their properties into high-yielding holiday lets.

Coupled with this, is the increase in second holiday homes on Arran which drives up prices and further reduces the available housing stock for locals. Up to half, and in many cases more, of the available houses in some villages on Arran, are only occupied for a few weeks of the year, as second holiday homes.

Claire Mooney, the principal teacher at Brodick Primary School, is one of the young professionals caught up in the housing crisis on Arran. Claire has lived on Arran for five years with her two children. As an educator on Arran, a sector that struggles to attract staff and one that pays far better than the hospitality industry – the largest industry on the island – she is still unable to secure a foothold on the housing ladder.

Recently Claire was told by her landlord that the house she rents in Lamlash will be put up for sale. And even though she received six months notice, far more than many tenants on Arran receive, she has still been unable to secure accommodation anywhere on the island.

Claire said: ‘I moved to Arran in early 2017 and although I had secured my dream job as principal teacher at Brodick Primary School, I was aware that housing options were limited on the island.

‘I travelled to Arran by ferry every day in the hope that a house would become available. Fortunately I was lucky enough that, after three months of commuting, a rental home became available for myself and my children. I felt as though everything was falling into place for the life that we had dreamed of. I had a wonderful class to teach, amazing colleagues and a fantastic community to be a part of.

‘We were very lucky to secure a tenancy but were always aware that this may be a temporary arrangement as, understandably, landlords can sell the house. This is now the situation that we face. We have had a wonderful experience in our home but are saddened to leave with a worry that Christmas may not only be our last in our current house, but also our last on the island.

‘I have put my name on housing lists but have not yet been lucky enough to be allocated a house. I am now faced with a dilemma. Do I stay on the island where my children are settled with a wonderful group of friends and where I have settled into the community – but will possibly become homeless in a matter of weeks – or do I relocate back to the mainland where there is more chance of having a secure home for myself and my children?

‘This would mean uprooting my children, changing my job and my dream career, and leaving behind lifelong friends and the job that I love. As a teacher, I would be devastated to leave the island and the children that I have taught as I imagined that I would be teaching these children and their siblings for many years to come.

‘Sadly, affordable housing on the island is not within the budget of a single parent, and rental prices leave little spare to add to any savings. All I can hope is that a suitable long term rental or a council home becomes available to allow myself and my children to remain in the place we call home.’

Claire also expressed concern about the future prospects for educators on Arran if she is forced to leave her post. Claire said: ‘I am concerned that if the housing crisis continues, this will reduce the number of applicants that will apply for my job – or any other jobs on the island – as, despite qualifications and references, teachers and school staff on Arran are not guaranteed accommodation.’

The Arran Development Trust, the operational arm of the Arran Economic Group, said in its 2019/ 2020 annual report: ‘It is now well recognised both locally and nationally by residents and government agencies that the lack of affordable housing on Arran is restricting current, and will restrict future, economic growth. It is a fundamental causal effect of a reducing working age population on the island.

‘The 2011 census saw a 16 per cent decline in working age population during a period of economic growth. The supply of affordable homes is the major unfunded infrastructure improvement which could significantly reduce economic development and community viability.’

Tom Tracey, chairman of the Arran Economic Group, added: ‘Arran has a had a serious affordable housing shortage identified by various North Ayrshire Council (NAC) studies going back to 2008. The most recent Fraser of Allander study in 2020 was primarily focused on the ferry but identified the lack of affordable housing as a major issue on the island. The Arran Development Trust, supported by the North Star study in 2015 identified the need for 200 affordable homes. NAC created a 50-unit Social Housing Investment Plan (SHIP) of which 34 very welcome houses are due to be delivered.

Mr Tracey also quantified the extent of the problem faced by islanders wishing to purchase property. He said: ‘Average house prices on Arran are nine times the average earnings, compared to four and a half times on the mainland.’

‘Demand for affordable housing has significantly outstripped supply for at least the last 10 years. This has caused labour shortages across all sectors, health and social care, education and the private sector, particularly tourism. This is not a complex problem. We do not need any more reports or priority setting exercises. We need to start building more affordable housing now. The sustainability of our island depends on it.’

Meanwhile, the 34 new council houses at Brathwic, the first to be built on Arran in 30 years, have been delayed. Originally scheduled to be occupied by October, it has now been confirmed they will only be available at the start of next year.