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Written by Tom Wills

March 31, 2021

Why is housing so important to communities like Shetland? Well, our population is ageing and set to decline. If we want to keep and improve the high-quality public services and infrastructure that we’ve grown used to, then we need to grow our economy and our population. That means ensuring islanders of all ages can stay in Shetland to live and work and it also means attracting new residents. It’s therefore imperative that people have affordable and sustainable housing that meets their needs and is found where they want it.

Our climate, remoteness, the price of power and some poorly-insulated housing all contribute to Shetland’s high levels of fuel poverty. Building new affordable homes and improving existing houses will help deal with this problem and tackle climate change at the same time. During the COVID recovery, when the public sector will have to step in to get the economy moving again, ambitious programmes to insulate homes and build new ones will also create good local jobs.

Keeping the heat in and the weather out has always been a problem in Shetland. There are many properties that don’t meet modern standards for insulation and building fabric. Scottish Government money is available to improve them through the Home Insulation Grant and the Energy Assistance Package.
The SNP Government has been doing some great work since coming to power in 2007. The Scottish Rural Housing Fund already commits £25 million over the next three years, with £5 million ring-fenced for island housing projects. The Croft House Grant (CHG) improves and maintains housing for crofting tenants and owner occupier crofters.

Since 2007, 1,412 new homes have been built in Shetland, most of them in the private sector but including 32 council and 389 housing association houses and flats that were partly funded by the SNP Government. This is in stark contrast to the virtual standstill in social housebuilding under previous administrations.
I’m pleased the Scottish Government has published a 20-year housing strategy [1], recognising the importance of everyone having a safe and affordable home that meets their needs. Nationwide, this target would support about £16 billion in total investment and up to 14,000 jobs a year. It’s Scotland’s first such strategy and outlines what the Scottish Government thinks housing and communities should look like in the future, with proposals on how to get there and a promise to deliver an extra 100,000 new homes in Scotland within 10 years.

The strategy aims to tackle high rents in the private sector and support fair, accessible rented accommodation through a Rented Sector Strategy and Housing Bill. It aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from domestic heating, in line with Scotland’s climate ambitions, and ensure this is done in a fair and just way, including by adapting and retrofitting existing homes. A new fund will help local authorities bring empty homes back into residential use and support housing development in rural and island areas like Shetland, helping to prevent depopulation and enabling communities to thrive.
In many areas of rural Scotland, young local buyers are being priced out of the market by cash-rich buyers from elsewhere, who in some cases snap up properties without even viewing them. Often such properties are bought as second homes or for holiday lets, with limited benefit to the local economy [2]. This has historically been less of a problem in Shetland, but it sounds like demand and prices have been surging recently.

The Scottish Government’s housing policy demonstrates how seriously it takes access to housing, homelessness, fuel poverty and global warming. In Shetland there’s been excellent work done by Hjaltland Housing Association, the council and private developers and builders. Despite this, there’s still a substantial waiting list for affordable houses and the poor condition of some of our housing stock makes our high levels of fuel poverty worse – and contributes to global warming.

This new long-term policy, combined with existing Scottish Government measures, should go a long way to improving how we live now and in the future. As with every area of policy though, there will be more to do and if elected, I would collaborate with other parties and SNP-linked groups like Common Weal [3] who are working on this challenge.

I’m interested to learn more about the challenges folk in Shetland are facing, so if you’re having problems with housing or have ideas about how we can improve things here, please get in touch.

Surely a warm home that’s affordable to heat should be a human right in this climate?

Ref. 1: Scotland’s 20-year vision for housing:,a%2020%2Dyear%20housing%20strategy.&text=delivering%20100%2C000%20more%20affordable%20homes,these%20being%20for%20social%20rent.
Ref. 2: “Local people are being outbid on properties at the last minute by cash-rich buyers”
Ref. 3: