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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 11 November 2020

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, University and College Students (Support), Covid-19 Testing (Health and Social Care Workers), Covid-19 Support (Tourism and Hospitality), Urgent Question, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Housing Market (Islands)


Contents


Housing Market (Islands)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-22640, in the name of Alasdair Allan, on concerns regarding the islands housing market. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the concerns expressed regarding rising property prices in many parts of the Highlands and Islands; understands that there has been an increase in interest in rural housing markets since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic; considers that rising house prices in areas with small numbers of available houses to buy is to the detriment of young island families, who are often unable to compete financially and, in some cases, find themselves up against bidders who are willing to buy without even setting foot on the island first; believes that this contributes to the continuing outward migration of young people; considers that the Highlands and Islands, and the Western Isles in particular, have worrying projections in terms of ageing and shrinking populations; recognises the importance of these communities for the maintenance of the Gaelic language; understands what it considers the pressing need for island communities to attract and welcome people from elsewhere; notes the belief that, if current demographic trends are to be reversed, the issues that young island families have, in terms of affordability and availability of housing, must be addressed, and notes the calls for Uist to be used as part of a trial where properties are advertised locally in the first instance.

18:39  

Dr Alasdair Allan (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP)

All Scotland’s islands make their own distinctive cultural contribution to our country, but that depends on them being populated. All islands face their unique challenges, with different geographies, transport links and levels of average income.

Tonight, however, I want to raise another island problem, which is housing. This debate has been prompted by a campaign led by Pàdruig Morrison and a number of other young constituents in Uist. They all want to live on an island and contribute to its social and economic fabric, and perhaps to set up their own business or to croft. Some were born and raised in the islands and want to return; some have migrated there, and others still wish to. They have all identified finding somewhere to live as the single biggest obstacle to those ambitions.

Part of the solution is social rented housing. In the Western Isles, there remains a housing waiting list of around 400, and the Scottish Government’s recent unprecedented offer of £25 million to build new houses locally will certainly make a very welcome impact on that list. However, we will need robust systems to measure demand for housing in rural areas. Almost by definition, no record of such demand exists in areas where there have been few, if any, social rented houses to apply for. Unless we get that right, we run the risk of building only in a few more urban areas.

Aside from the issue of rented housing, islands face unique and growing problems when it comes to the supply of houses to buy. I will explain what I mean by that, using a couple of—admittedly extreme—examples. A small house—with two bedrooms, I think—in a particularly scenic part of my constituency recently sold for £385,000. A few miles up the road, the tenancy of a croft—by that, I mean not the ownership of the land but just the opportunity to take on the tenancy, with its associated right to buy—was recently advertised for £200,000. I stress that that croft had, as yet, no house on it at all.

I do not claim that those situations are typical of all areas across all islands. However, if that trend were to catch on, it is clear that, as Pàdruig Morrison has pointed out, young families in the islands could abandon any prospect of ever buying a home. Pàdruig told me:

“We have first-hand examples of ... young people, professionally qualified, putting in offers for houses. Despite communicating to sellers the importance of population retention, cash-rich buyers often jump in front and buy houses which often have not been viewed. In the worst examples, the island has not yet even been visited by them!”

There are multiple reasons for the rise in prices in some areas. Most recently, it has probably been driven partly by the idea—entirely ill founded—that islands are somehow completely unaffected by Covid. More generally, the market has been distorted by the sharp rise in the number of second homes and short-term lets.

Before I go further, I want to make it clear that I am not making a case against tourism. In fact, I welcome the recent growth of tourism in the islands and recognise that self-catering accommodation is a very important part of that. Equally, I am not having a go at those who are retired. Nonetheless, there must be some houses in the islands that are available to buy at a reasonable price for people who want to live there all year round during their working lives.

In parts of Harris, holiday homes and second homes now account between them for almost 60 per cent of all houses. I understand that the same is perhaps becoming true in Tiree, among other places. There are some communities in my constituency—only some, I stress—where there are now no new children entering primary schools. No affordable housing ultimately means closed schools.

That point is underlined by a report that was published today by Community Land Scotland, entitled “Home Delivery: Community Led Housing in rural Scotland”. The report finds that the lack of access to affordable housing for local people is exacerbated by increasing numbers of houses being turned into holiday homes and short-term lets in popular holiday destinations. It also highlights just how valuable communities have found the rural and islands housing funds in getting affordable housing to where it is needed. I would be grateful if the minister was able to speak to the future of those funds in his closing remarks.

Lest there be any room for wilful misunderstanding, I make it clear that nobody is making a case against people moving to the islands. I am an incomer to the islands myself—a fact that I seem to remember being raised politically in some quarters, albeit to little effect, during the election of 2007. In fact, the islands desperately need more new people, even just to fill the job vacancies that are projected to come up over the next few years. The islands are a wonderful and welcoming place in which to live. The point is that we need a diverse mix of people of different ages, skills and backgrounds to ensure that we have an adequate workforce. One of the biggest obstacles to achieving that, which has been cited by many employers, is a lack of housing.

I welcome the measures, on which the Scottish Government is currently consulting, to give local authorities the power to regulate the number of short-term lets in any single community. I would personally make the case for a similar power to regulate the number of second homes. I realise that I have come to the debate without a list of detailed solutions, but I think that it is only fair to give a public airing to the fears that many communities now—quietly, but increasingly—express to me. Those places want to retain the vitality that marks out a community from a resort.

We can look to other places for ideas. In Norway, for example, I understand that many rural areas operate two entirely separate housing markets, with one list containing houses that are available for sale as year-round residences only. I believe that Cornwall and other places have made efforts to deal with similar issues.

We could look at the level of support for open market shared equity; the area-based limit for a four-apartment house under the OMSE scheme currently stands at £100,000 in the Western Isles. We need to think about placing certain restrictions on grants that are designed specifically to bring empty homes back into the housing market, in order to ensure that those properties are not used as holiday homes or second homes.

Whatever solutions we arrive at, I hope that members on all sides of the chamber can agree that Pàdruig Morrison and his friends have given us some pretty convincing reasons why we cannot leave the future of our communities in the Highlands and Islands to the mercy of an unrestrained free market in houses. [Applause.]

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Thank you, Dr Allan. In case you did not hear it, you got a wee clap there. We move to the open debate—I ask members for speeches of around four minutes, please. I am aware that, because of the late start, Kenneth Gibson has to leave us fairly soon, so I call him first, followed by Edward Mountain.

18:47  

Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

I congratulate my colleague Alasdair Allan on bringing the debate to the chamber; I know that housing is a topic of real concern to the communities that he represents, and I appreciate that. I also appreciate the Presiding Officer allowing me to leave before the end of the debate because of the late start, as I have a meeting to discuss ferry matters with my island constituents.

?The motion that was lodged by Alasdair Allan mentions the threat of losing Gaelic as a living local language. As the situation in my constituency demonstrates, that threat is all too real. The 1901 census indicates that between 50 and 74 per cent of west Arran’s population, and between 25 and 49 per cent of the population in the east, spoke Gaelic. By 1992, however, Arran’s last native Gaelic speaker had sadly passed away. Such a loss must be prevented in Gaelic’s Western Isles heartland.

?I have raised the issue of island depopulation in the chamber previously, and island constituents?continue to contact me about it. Over decades, there has been an on-going shift in island demography as a result of?new incoming residents, who are often financially?established and are able buy family homes with relative ease. They have an economic advantage over indigenous working-age islanders, who cannot compete on price. That causes young islanders to move to the mainland, often never to return.

On Arran, following such displacement, only around a third of the 4,600 islanders are native to the island.? Although newcomers often have skills and infuse the community with energy and ideas, they are disproportionately elderly. A huge number of properties are now second homes or holiday homes, and planning restrictions further diminish the options that are available. The lack of affordable housing for?younger people makes it more difficult to meet the demand for workers, particularly in health and social care settings, including care at home.

I sympathise with the suggestion of a tiered system whereby properties are first advertised only locally, but how could such a system be implemented where it impacts on a private transaction? An owner who wishes to move on always wants the best price possible. Measures to encourage folk to sell local?are worth exploring. However, a better way to counter the shortage would be to build more affordable homes.

I was delighted when the Scottish Government awarded £3.612 million to the Arran Development Trust last year from its rural and islands housing funds. The new-build development at Brathwic Terrace in Brodick has a total budget of £6.5 million; it was?the largest grant awarded to a?community group from the fund and is part of a wider £8.5 million package to provide 43 affordable homes for rent. Arran Development Trust has also applied for £400,000 from the Scottish land fund to buy development land at Rowarden, and I wish it every success with its application.

Nevertheless, continuing to build properties while others lie empty is not sustainable or desirable. Particularly in west Arran, there are numerous private properties that require more investment than many sellers or potential buyers can afford. Who will modernise, rewire and replumb homes that are still in the same condition as they were in the 1960s or 1970s? Such properties often do not even make it on to the market and fall into further disrepair.

Through Home Energy Scotland, the Scottish Government has made up to £38,500 per home available to make energy efficiency improvements. Although it is enormously helpful that grants are available and loans are interest free, they are only available to owner-occupiers. Properties needing the most work often cannot be occupied before renovation is complete.

Improved grants for conversion and restrictions on which properties receive grants, so that they cannot be used for holiday or second homes, would be helpful, as would a fund to purchase such homes, which tend to be scattered around islands, for social rent, rather than having affordable homes only in mini-housing schemes.

In 2013, the Scottish ministers provided local authorities with discretion to vary council tax on unoccupied properties, a measure that saved those renovating or trying to sell thousands of pounds. Initially, a discount of between 10 and 50 per cent is required, but once a property is unoccupied for 12 months, or 24 months if actively marketed for sale or let, an increase of up to 100 per cent may be imposed to encourage owners to bring the home back into use.

However, although guidance provides discretion to consider the location that a dwelling is in and examine the circumstances case by case, evidence to the Local Government and Communities Committee shows that some local authorities do not exercise enough flexibility, even where empty homes officers are in post.

A scheme to reduce single occupancy in underoccupied housing through incentives and elderly-friendly housing developments would be of help.

We value Scotland’s island communities and must enable young people to stay on their beautiful islands, raise children and sustain their communities and culture.

18:52  

Edward Mountain (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

I thank Alasdair Allan for bringing this important debate to the chamber. I did not intend, when I got up this morning, to speak in the debate, but when I thought about it a bit more, I realised that the issue is one that was driven home to the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee when we visited various islands during consideration of the Islands (Scotland) Bill.

I am sympathetic to many of the points that Alasdair Allan raised, and I firmly agree that action must be taken to stop rural depopulation. Part of that action definitely involves housing. It is not a magic bullet to solve the overarching problems that cause rural depopulation, but it is an important issue that must be taken seriously.

As Alasdair Allan notes in his motion, there has been a significant uptick in property interest in the Western Isles, and across much of the Highlands and Islands region, during the Covid-19 pandemic, with interest not only from England, but from countries and regions further afield, including Hong Kong. Much of that has been described as “urban flight”: people seeking to get away from densely populated areas during the pandemic.

Although I am sure that all members in the Parliament welcome migration, we know from experience that, all too often, property that is purchased in the region is not to be lived in permanently, as Dr Allan said, but is either to be lived in for a few weeks a year, or to be rented out to others who are visiting temporarily. Of course, I accept that tourism is important for the economy of the Highlands and Islands, but it cannot and should not come with detriment to those who live, work and have families in the region.

According to the Scottish Government’s national islands plan, the population of Orkney and Shetland is set to fall by 2.2 per cent by 2041, and that of the Western Isles is set to fall by a staggering 14 per cent. That is deeply worrying to me.

I am aware of the worries and concerns that are expressed by people who live in our island communities across Argyll and Bute and the islands. Although it is evident that there is a problem with housing being bought for use as holiday homes or for self-catering accommodation, for example, it is also clear that we are not building enough new and affordable houses in our island communities.

I know from casework that there are many empty properties, including old and neglected croft homes, that could be brought back into use, but have not been.

Part of the problem appears to be the ineffectiveness of the rural and islands housing funds. Although the intentions appear to be good, a recent freedom of information response showed that the two schemes have delivered a total of only 68 new homes in the past four years, which is well short of the target of 500 houses that should have been delivered by the rural housing fund alone.

I am led to understand that the rural housing fund uses a cost per unit of £83,000 for affordable housing, despite the fact that, as I am sure Dr Allan knows, the costs of building a house on an island are much higher. That amount might have to be increased so that we can afford to build more affordable homes across our islands. In addition to that, we should be more mindful of the need for more social housing in our island communities.

I reiterate my thanks to Dr Allan for bringing the motion to the chamber, which can spark a wider debate in civic Scotland about how best we can preserve our population in rural and remote parts of the country. Our solutions must be innovative, and it is clear that the creation of new high-quality affordable housing will be key to that. I hope that the debate will stimulate that conversation, and I look forward to taking forward some of the ideas that have been mentioned in it.

18:56  

Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

I, too, congratulate Alasdair Allan on securing the debate, and I pay tribute to the young people whom he talked about in his speech, who have raised the issue recently with many of us. They highlighted their experience of trying to find affordable housing in island and rural communities.

This week, they contacted us again to say that the situation is getting worse. Young people who moved away for further and higher education want to come home, but they cannot. Those young people want to live and work in the communities in which they were brought up. They are also being forced out because the jobs and salaries that are available locally mean that they cannot compete with people who have spare cash for a holiday home. Those young people are at the beginning of their careers and have not accumulated the wealth that is needed to compete with people who can afford a second home.

When I visited West Harris Trust, I was told that when it bought the estate there were fears that nearly half of local housing would become second homes. Not surprisingly, therefore, their top priority was to build houses. Many community landowners have done the same; indeed, communities that do not own their land have been setting up trusts so that they are able to build houses. Therefore, Community Land Scotland’s report on the issue, which was published today, is timely.

Sadly, it is not a new problem—it has been a problem for decades—but it is getting worse. It causes the break-up of communities and families, and young people being forced to leave causes a brain drain and depopulation. Covid-19 has made the problem worse through its impact on the economy of rural and island communities. It has caused greater disparity between what local people can afford and what people who have even more spending power due to the pandemic can afford.

The young people who wrote to us expressing their concerns about access to homes asked that houses for sale be advertised locally before being advertised further afield as holiday homes. That suggestion has merit; in their submission to us, the young people highlighted a case in which that had worked well. However, we could go further. Alasdair Allan mentioned Norway; the Channel Islands, as well, operates two housing markets.

We could have a holiday home market that is proportionate to the housing that is available in the local housing market. Every home that is built with assistance from the public purse should be available only to locals. That would include council houses, housing association houses and homes that are built with help from a croft house grant or other public incentives. People could also opt in to the local housing market, making it clear that a house is to become a family home.

We also need opportunities to build houses. The croft house grant scheme is not fit for purpose, because it does not reflect the fact that people who run crofts also need other employment opportunities. Too often, I have heard of young people being turned down by the scheme because they might want to include an extra bedroom for bed and breakfast accommodation, an office for another job, or a workshop, depending on what they do. That needs to be put right.

We also need to ensure that young people in rural areas have access to good-quality well-paid jobs to allow them to get the mortgages that they need in order to compete. Therefore, I ask the Scottish Government to protect good-quality jobs, such as those of air traffic controllers, in our island and rural communities. It is not good enough that those jobs are being taken out of our communities and, with them, young families. The survival of Gaelic depends on growing communities of Gaelic speakers, and that depends on there being a solution to that problem.

The Scottish Government depopulation task force has not met since January; it needs to be given priority. We need to decentralise civil service jobs and encourage public bodies to ensure that their staffing structure supports rural communities. We cannot wait; that work needs to be carried out urgently. To do nothing will fail our island and rural communities.

19:01  

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

I join others in congratulating Alasdair Allan on bringing this important motion before us. There is nothing more important than housing. Everyone needs to live somewhere and we hope that that somewhere is a home.

Like others, I am keen to see responsible tourism in the Highlands, but no one needs to holiday in a home. I am not a fan of the term “second home” or “holiday home”, because it is an additional property; a home is different and we must set that language against the fact that many people have no home or no prospect of a home.

The motion talks about the islands’ housing market; the market forces are the problem that we are dealing with, and I am keen that we separate market forces from the fundamental human need for shelter and the role that the state plays in its provision, in the form of good-quality social housing. Like Dr Allan, I am pleased that those millions have gone to the Western Isles for additional housing, but it is a drop in the ocean.

I commend Pàdruig Morrison and the other campaigners for their work. We know that rural housing is closely linked to population retention and that the issue is not exclusive to the northern or western islands. I am from rural Lochaber, and there is far more housing there than there was when I was a boy but, because of the nature of the occupants, there is no school or post office. Properties that were previously tied to jobs—on an estate or, more commonly, in forestry or the hydroelectric scheme—have been sold off, and therein lies a problem.

The statutory obligation for assessing housing needs lies with the local authority and, like Dr Allan, I am keen that the broadest consideration is taken. I had a look at the “Outer Hebrides Local Housing Strategy 2017-2022”; it has all the right words and they are all in the right order, but we hear from Community Land Scotland’s report that islanders fear “economic clearance” and there is some justification for that. The report also says that

“Young islanders could not compete with offers made by buyers from elsewhere in the UK.”

Again, the problem is market forces; why should they have to compete? We should be housing our population. In the north of Mull, there are plenty of houses but very few homes.

My colleague Rhoda Grant touched on the West Harris Trust, which became involved in the project for that very reason. Staffin Community Trust said:

“We refused to sleepwalk into becoming a retirement village”.

That trust has done great work there by providing the first affordable houses in 21 years; they will house seven families, which makes the school resilient.

There are lots of suggestions for what we can do, and a number of them have been shared with us. There are limitations to some of them. Control areas and planning requirements for short-term lets, which my colleague Andy Wightman has talked a lot about, would be very important.

With regard to the decentralisation of jobs, many of us are conducting the business of Parliament from our houses, so there is no reason why many of the jobs in the public sector that are currently being undertaken from home cannot be done from home henceforth. Jobs and houses go hand in hand.

The importance of the issue for the Gaelic language must not be underestimated. We need a massive house-building programme, and we need to involve Highlands and Islands Enterprise, with a focus on people. Any impact assessments that have been demanded by the islands suggest that we do that. Let us house our island populations, and let us protect and sustain the heart of the Gàidhealtachd.

Hugh Ross from the Staffin Community Trust said:

“The sound of children playing in the gardens will be a very welcome noise - that of a community with a bright future.”

Tha gu dearbh—yes indeed.

19:05  

Beatrice Wishart (Shetland Islands) (LD)

I, too, thank Alasdair Allan for securing the debate. The issue is hugely important, and I am pleased that we are able to debate it today.

Although the debate appears to have been inspired by issues that may be more immediate in the Western Isles, the motion recognises that availability of affordable housing is essential if young people are to make the islands their home, and to prevent population decline. It is right that a strategic objective is included in the national islands plan; I would be interested if the minister could give an update on progress in that regard.

Housing issues can be some of the most challenging and frustrating casework that we receive—I am sure that other members feel the same. Shetland is my home, and it matters to me. It is a beautiful part of the world, but beautiful scenery alone is not enough to encourage skilled workers to make the move north. There are skills shortages in Shetland. Efforts to invest in, develop and attract the highly skilled workforce that will be needed for Shetland’s just transition will be wasted if people do not have the opportunity to make a home in the islands and to contribute to our economy for the long term.

I know of people who relocated to Shetland to fill job vacancies but who, unfortunately, might now have to leave the isles because they cannot afford the high private rents or face a long wait for social housing in their chosen area. I know two families who are keen to return to Shetland to work and raise their children there, but they are experiencing similar issues.

Alasdair Allan is right to say that a lack of housing impacts on the viability of schools and other services. That is no criticism of local authority staff, who are working hard and doing their best for people with the resources that they have. There are long-standing issues across the country with changing demographics and underoccupancy.

Affordable housing is more than just a physical building. The cost of living in Shetland is up to 60 per cent higher than the UK average, and fuel poverty is high. It is vital that homes are energy efficient and that people can get a good broadband connection and mobile signal where they live. This year has demonstrated, more than ever, how essential that is.

Island living is impossible without good transport links—inter-island as well as lifeline connections to the mainland. The social housing that is available is often not in areas close to family and friends or to work, and bus timetables might not work for people who work shifts. If the Government invests in our most remote communities, that can change. Properly addressing housing issues needs joined-up thinking on the private market and social housing provision, and engagement with local community groups and between local government and national Government.

Community groups need to be able to make use of the rural and islands housing funds. Development trusts have often struggled with administrative barriers to that kind of funding, and no homes have been built in Shetland so far using the scheme. The islands housing fund should open doors—literally and figuratively—for people in communities such as mine. The Scottish Government must do far more to remove the obstacles that I have described and to support communities in developing applications.

We need a commitment from ministers not to claw back much-needed resources in the event that projects take a little longer to deliver. The Government should consider providing incentives to ensure that many of the neglected and vacant properties across the country are renovated and brought up to an acceptable standard.

There is an opportunity to ensure that island communities get the affordable housing that they need, and the Scottish Government can do more to help them to seize that opportunity.

19:09  

The Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning (Kevin Stewart)

I offer plaudits to Dr Allan for securing today’s debate.

Areas of rural Scotland are often classed as the best, happiest and, of course, most beautiful places to live. However, as Dr Allan and others have highlighted, rural living also brings certain challenges, including larger numbers of second homes and communities where people are on lower incomes. In some places, for far too long, there has been a lack of affordable homes, which can have a major effect on access to suitable housing.

We need to grow the Scottish economy and we need to sustain our rural and island communities, to enable communities and businesses, as well as the tourism sector, to thrive. We need to protect and safeguard the diverse and cultural characteristics of communities while supporting a place-based approach to rural development.

During the consultations on the national islands plan, concerns that island communities had about depopulation were made clear and, in response, the national islands plan, which was published last year, included specific commitments to address population decline and ensure a healthy, balanced population profile. That supports our wider commitment to publish in early 2021 a population strategy to tackle the demographic challenges for Scotland as a whole.

We are also committed to supporting our rural and island communities through our reforms to the planning system and we recognise the critical role that appropriate housing can play. The Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 introduced new duties for planning to help to increase the population of rural areas of Scotland, particularly depopulated areas. We have also begun the process of developing national planning framework 4 and we are exploring new, proactive policy options for planning to enable development that supports dynamic rural economies and helps to sustain and support our rural communities.

I appeal to elected members in island communities and remote rural communities to be brave when they sit on the planning committees and make decisions. They should make sure that they are voting for the right development to take place to help folk in their community.

We also have an important planning consultation closing tomorrow on our proposals for extending permitted development rights. The proposed changes would increase the range of developments that can be carried out without the need for a full planning application.

We know that good-quality, affordable housing is essential to help attract and retain people in Scotland’s remote rural and island communities and that providing affordable housing in those areas presents different challenges than in urban areas. A small number of homes can make a big difference to the sustainability of a local economy.

Our affordable housing supply programme supports the delivery of affordable housing for rent or purchase across urban and rural areas of Scotland. The programme has grant subsidy levels that recognise those rural challenges. Edward Mountain mentioned subsidy levels. There is flexibility built into all that we do because we recognise that it is more costly to build in remote rural and island communities. The flexibility of the grant subsidy levels has led to projects that would never have taken place had we had a fixed approach. Places that have benefited include Ulva Ferry in Mull and Horgabost in west Harris, with which Dr Allan is familiar. So, although we encourage maximising value when it comes to delivering affordable housing, the higher cost of rural and islands development is well understood.

This Government is committed to affordable housing, having now delivered nearly 96,000 affordable homes since 2007, and until Covid-19 we were on track to meet our commitment to deliver 50,000 affordable homes in this session of Parliament. Some of those homes are in places such as Shetland. In King Harald Street a new development is about to be completed and there is also Gaet-A-Gott, of which I am sure that Beatrice Wishart is well aware. I take my hat off to the Hjaltland Housing Association for the work that it has done in bringing forward more difficult sites such as Staneyhill.

In the first years of this session of Parliament, the affordable housing supply programme delivered more than 4,800 affordable homes in rural and island areas and invested more than £55 million in the islands alone. As has been mentioned, we brought into play the rural and islands housing funds to address some of the challenges associated with the provision of housing in rural Scotland. We launched those £30 million funds in 2016, complementing our existing significant investment in affordable housing in rural areas.

Many members will have seen Community Land Scotland’s report, which was published today and written by David Ross. It highlights the benefits that there have been to many families across rural and island Scotland because of investment from those funds. I recognise that some people think that investment from the funds has been too slow, but we have had to allow communities to develop the schemes that are essential for them at their own pace. It is important that the schemes are community led and have the backing and support of organisations such as Community Land Scotland.

Provision of housing through the funds, which are available to a wide range of housing providers, continues to grow, increasing the supply of affordable housing in remote rural Scotland and on our islands. Given the long lead-in times and the complexities involved with rural housing development, it is encouraging to see that the momentum of those funds has built steadily from a standing start, with real progress on the number of homes approved in the past couple of years. In a small community, providing one or two homes is as important as providing a large-scale development in a city. Last summer, I visited a small development funded by our islands housing fund at Gravir on the Isle of Lewis. That development is hugely important in allowing that community to grow.

I recognise that the rural and islands housing funds are delivering for rural communities and providing an additional funding route for people who are not able to access traditional affordable housing funding. I agree with the assessment of Savills in its work for the Scottish Land Commission, which described the funds as a “game changer”. That positive view is reflected through our recent review of the funds. I am, therefore, pleased to announce the continuation of the rural and islands housing funds beyond March 2021, with up to £30 million available to support those demand-led schemes as part of the future five-year affordable housing programme. I hope that that will be welcomed by the members here and recognised as part of our commitment to rural and island housing.

Although tourism contributes positively to local economies and communities in many areas of rural Scotland, we recognise that in certain areas, particularly tourist hotspots, high numbers of short-term lets can make it harder for people to find homes to live in.

That is why, on 14 September, we published a consultation paper setting out our detailed proposals for the regulation of short-term lets in Scotland. The consultation will gather final views on the new legislation giving local authorities powers to license short-term lets and introduce control areas before regulations are laid in Parliament in December, which will come into force in April 2021.

We are working on a vision for how our homes and communities should look and feel in 2040, and on the options and choices that we need to make to get us there. We want to ensure that everyone in Scotland has access to a high-quality and sustainable home that is safe, warm and affordable, and that meets their needs. We have consulted widely with communities across rural, urban and island locations so that we can plot and put in place a route map that will stand the test of time. We want to create a shared vision for housing that covers all of Scotland—cities, towns, Lowlands, Highlands and islands.

As a Government, we are committed to doing all that we can to help rural communities thrive. We remain committed to working with our rural and island communities. We will continue to listen on issues such as council tax, land and buildings transaction tax, and the pressures that are on them, and we will continue to develop and deliver the solutions that are needed for different rural and island populations.

As Scotland’s housing minister, I have made ensuring that we drive up housing in all of Scotland part of my wish list. I have had the great pleasure of visiting many remote rural and island places to see what we have done, but also to see what is required. I will continue to do so for as long as I am in this post. I thank Dr Allan once again for bringing this debate to the chamber.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Thank you very much, minister. That was quite a seven minutes, but it was all very interesting.

Meeting closed at 19:22.