SHETLAND Islands Council is to approach both the UK and Scottish Governments for cash aid to help the authority to begin wiping out its crippling and historic £40 million housing debt.
The debt - which equates to £23,000 of debt for each of the remaining 1,800 council houses on the islands - was mainly accrued by the housing boom on Shetland when 1,000 new council houses were built between 1974 and 1989 to cope the influx of oil industry workers.
Shetland council tenants already pay the second-highest rents in Scotland and there are mounting concerns of a major hike in rents unless the debt is addressed.
A spokeswoman for the council said today: “A new deal has been put on the table by Shetland Islands Council in a bid to resolve Shetland’s housing debt situation once and for all, while at the same time clearing the way to support its tenants by maintaining affordable rents and building new homes in the community.”
She explained that the proposals had been presented to Derek Mackay, the Scottish Minister for Local Government and Planning, by Councillor Gary Robinson, the leader of the council, while the Scottish Cabinet was visiting the islands ;last week. The council has received an assurance that “the Scottish Government will now consider the package in more detail.”
Councillor Robinson said: “We have taken the initiative to try to break the deadlock on Shetland’s historic housing debt problem and secure a better future for our tenants in terms of affordable and available housing.
“What we are proposing is to ask the UK Government for £10 million which we would match, taking the debt down to £20 million and allowing rents to be kept at an affordable level. We are also asking the Scottish Government for £10 million of housing grant for the period 2016 to 2018, which when matched by a similar sum from us in terms of land value and funding for housing development would pave the way for new affordable homes to be built in Shetland.”
He continued: “We are pleased that the Scottish Government has taken our proposal away to consider in more detail and we hope that they can encourage the UK Government to sit down and discuss the matter.
“The position we have put forward is, in our minds, one that could settle the housing debt debate once and for all.”
Anita Jamieson, SIC’s executive manager for housing, said: “A solution to the debt issue is long overdue and is crucial to protecting our tenants, by ensuring that we can provide a quality service that meets their needs and expectations at an affordable rent.
“We also need to find ways of investing in new housing supply to meet the growing needs of those on the waiting list. The proposal put forward is designed to find a sustainable way forward.”