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Building more affordable homes in Shetland is a challenge and it’s not because of a lack of funding

Publication: Shetland News

Increasing the speed of building new affordable homes across Shetland will be a difficult task according to the chief executive of Hjaltland Housing Association (HHA).

Housing minister Paul McLennan (third from left) with Hjaltland Housing Association's chief executive Bryan Leask (left), the organisation's chairperson Agnes Tallack, and Hjaltland's head of asset management Paul Leask. Photo by Shetland News | Licensed for use on Scottish Beacon | All rights reserved

Bryan Leask was speaking after the association’s new £6.25 million Berryview scheme in Scalloway was officially opened by Scottish housing minister Paul McLennan on Tuesday.

The housing association received 280 applications for the 32 units at Berryview, chair of the board of Hjaltland, Agnes Tallack, revealed during a short introduction speech.

Six of the 32 homes are in shared ownership, which is a scheme to help young families get on to the property ladder.

Speaking to Shetland News, Leask said he had never seen so much funding for affordable housing coming through from the Scottish Government, but building homes takes a lot of time, and it is not getting any easier due to a number of reasons. He said:

“For the last five to seven years, the level of support from the government has been well beyond what I have experienced in the last 23 years I have been doing this job.

“The level of support from the government is absolutely there; it is about how we as housing provider can rise to the challenge. (…) It is very difficult to build new houses; it’s not an easy thing to do.”

As part of the Bute House coalition agreement between the SNP and the Scottish Greens, the Scottish Government has given a commitment to build 110,000 affordable homes by 2032, with 10 per cent of these to be built in rural, remote and island communities.

Leask said that getting planning consent and building warrants, as well as all the required consents from the utilities, including getting electricity metres connected, was a time-consuming challenge. He said:

“None of these things happens quickly, and none are easy to do.

“It is becoming very, very challenging, time consuming and expensive to build new homes.

“While the government is providing the support (…) we need all the other sectors to get on board. By that I am mean energy providers and people like that, because without everybody working together to achieve what we are trying to achieve, reaching that 110,000 target will be very difficult.”

The chief executive added that the recruitment and retention problems in the local construction sector didn’t help. He said:

“Capacity and the supply chain is key to achieving all that. I would say ten years ago we had four or five contractors capable of doing a job of this size [the Berryview project], now we have probably two or three.”

“It is an ageing workforce; we need to encourage more apprentices coming into the construction industry.

“The amount of work that is available in the construction industry to reach the net zero targets will be enormous.”