Work to finally start on affordable housing

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By Hugh Boag

Work should finally start early next year on an affordable housing project in Lamlash – more than two years after the first funding was secured.

The Arran Development Trust (ADT) has revealed that it has, at last, reached a position where it is ready to proceed with building work at the site at Rowarden off Benlister Road in Lamlash where 18 affordable houses for rent are to be built.


It has also secured private finance to support the development of 25 serviced plots for self-build also in Lamlash.

The self-build plots will have a ‘rural housing burden’ placed on the title deeds ensuring these properties are always principal residences and not used as second or holiday homes in perpetuity.

These plots will be sold to island working families or working families trying to move to Arran.

ADT chairman Tom Tracey told the recent annual general meeting: ‘The chronic lack of affordable housing leaves us unable to retain the island’s young people or accommodate the workers we desperately need in; health and social care, education and hospitality – in fact, in all sectors.


‘We know we have vacancies across the board that could easily be filled if long term affordable rented accommodation was available.

‘Unfortunately, I have to confirm to you what you already know.

‘The general situation with regard to the availability of long-term affordable rents is deteriorating.

‘Increased house prices mean houses that were offering long-term lets have been sold or are for sale and plans for new affordable housing has been delayed due to Covid and failure to achieve Scottish Land Fund grants. So, a bad situation is getting worse.

‘In response to this, the Arran Development Trust and the Arran community urgently need to do two things: fix the long-term problem by continuing to push for more affordable houses.

‘In the short term we need to look at how we can slow the drift to short-term holiday lets and bring more of our existing housing stock into the long-term let market.’

Mr Tracey told the meeting that the initial projection was that the island needed 200 affordable homes and said that figure hadn’t changed.

He welcomed the 34 new council houses in Brodick, the first of which should be let early next year, but he said North Ayrshire Council was still being pressed for 16 more to meet its target of 50.

Mr Tracey said: ‘With NAC social housing plan still well short of what is required we have identified enough good land in desirable locations – throughout the island – to achieve our 200 targets.’

As reported in the Banner in November 2019 the trust has an agreement in principle from the Rural and Island Housing Fund ( RIHF) for partial grant funding (£3.6 million) for the construction of 43 affordable homes on two sites.

However, it failed to secure grant funding from The Scottish Land Fund to make the two sites viable.

‘This process was extremely time consuming and disappointing. However, it did not beat us,’ Mr Tracey said.

But he added: ‘We have secured private finance to support the RIHF grant to build 18 high quality affordable homes in Lamlash.

‘In addition, we have secured detailed planning permission and the building warrant for these properties is due shortly.

‘The expected start date is January 2022. These three short sentences belie the time, money and effort that has gone into getting us to this place.’

Mr Tracey said that the trust was primarily a ‘voluntary body’.

However, in order to progress its objective it is to hire two employees, both already involved with the organisation.

Barry Mochan has stepped down as chairman and trustee to become CEO.

Likewise, Sheena Borthwick-Toomey has stepped down as a trustee to become the operations director and secretary. Both will take up their positions early next year.

Sidebar

Headline: Island open-air museum danger

The new chief executive officer of the Arran Development Trust Barry Mochan was blunt about the challenges the island faced in his first statement to the AGM.

He said: ‘The island is in danger of becoming an open-air museum as more and more of those growing up here or wishing to come here with vital skills find they have no hope of finding a property.

‘The grant funding system works reasonably well on the mainland; in rural and island areas it does not.

‘The real difficulties in delivery are not recognised and accessing top-up funding is then incredibly difficult.

‘Accessing top-up funding is made all the more difficult due to location and ferry reliability.

Many funders simply will not consider island projects as they are believed to be too risky to deliver.

Often, we would only be considered if a single main contractor was used so, of course, this was explored – but the prices were prohibitive, again due to perceived risk.

‘This then left us to find a funder who would consider us despite the location and ferry service and who would also let us use separate contractors – a very limited market given our need to also keep rents as low as possible.

‘However, we are nearly there. We have inched forward through the pandemic and finally secured the funding we need.

‘We are now completing the due diligence process and next year we fully expect to commence work on site at last on our first two projects. One for affordable rent and one for affordable self-build.

‘If progress has seemed slow, I can only agree.

‘At times it felt almost impossible and I, and I am sure others, have had sleepless nights.

‘We have learned a lot of lessons and look forward to not only delivering this project but many others.

‘The needs of our members and this island have, historically, not been met with regard to housing.

‘With the continued dedication of the board, we are doing everything possible to change this.

‘It is not being over dramatic to say the future of this island as a place where people can live, work and bring up a family depends on it.’

It was confirmed the 18 new homes in Lamlash were to be 2 x 1 bedroom, 10 x 2 bedroom and 6 x 3-bedroom general needs homes.

Asked about what was happening with building work on the rest of the island – outwith Lamlash – Mr Mochan confirmed this was on the ADT’s radar and the ADT had tentative agreements in place with landowners willing to sell to the ADT for affordable homes.

However, for future funding and funders’ comfort, it was important that the first two sites in Lamlash were underway and successful before moving on to other sites.

Arran Development Trust chairman Tom Tracey, and new employees Barry Mochan and Sheena Borthwick-Toomey pictured when the Trust was launch in 2018.

 

The Rowarden site where 18 affordable houses are to be built. 01_B50houses01

Arran Development Trust chairman Tom Tracey, and new employees Barry Mochan and Sheena Borthwick-Toomey pictured when the trust was launch in 2018. 01_B50ADT01