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SNP accused of ‘forgetting’ rural housing crisis in budget

Affordable homes being built in Kyleakin on Skye

The Scottish Government is under fire for “shamefully” failing to announce new budget spending to ease the nation’s rural housing crisis.

The SNP-Green government faced claims it had “ignored” the desperate housing pressures being experienced across huge swathes of Scotland.

A chronic shortage of affordable housing was repeatedly raised as a major issue during an extensive research project we conducted with Survation in the run-up to the Scottish Parliament election earlier this year.

Two schemes  – the £25 million Rural Housing Fund and the £5m Islands Housing Fund – were established in the last parliament to try to help ease the pressures.

How many homes in rural housing scheme?

A total of 500 homes were initially anticipated under the Rural Housing Fund alone.

But we previously revealed that just 68 new homes were built under the initiatives in the first four years of the programmes, which had been due to run from 2016 to 2021, although the timetable has now been extended.

And it emerged in August that less than half of the budget had been spent to date, with £11.4m committed from the £25m allocated to the Rural Housing Fund.

However, figures showed the Islands Housing Fund had distributed more than its initial £5m allocation, at £6.2m over five years.

The funds offer capital support grants and loans for direct provision of new affordable housing, and refurbishment of existing empty properties, as well as a contribution to feasibility studies.

‘Dereliction of duty’

Scottish Conservative rural affairs spokeswoman Rachael Hamilton said badly-needed investment in rural homes was noticeably absent from the Budget.

And she called on ministers to “urgently increase” the amount of funding available.

Ms Hamilton said new investment was missing from the Budget delivered by Finance Secretary Kate Forbes last week.

“This is another dereliction of duty from the SNP-Green coalition. They have once again ignored the housing needs in our rural communities,” she said.

“Ministers announced a Rural Housing Fund to much fanfare in the last parliament, but it has completely failed to deliver.

“It has been yet another example of the SNP talking big but failing to deliver.

“Kate Forbes’s lack of mention of the need to build more houses in rural areas in the Budget shows how it is simply not a priority for this coalition.

Economy Secretary Kate Forbes

“We are simply not going to accelerate the recovery for rural communities if we don’t have the houses to attract people to come and live here.”

Ms Hamilton added: “It is time for the ministers to urgently increase the funding for rural housing, rather than shamefully forgetting to even mention it in their Budget.”

‘Game changers’

A Scottish Government spokesman said the rural and islands housing funds have been described as ‘game changers’ for community-led housing development.

The spokesman added: “Taken together with our Affordable Housing Supply Programme, this fund helped deliver more than 6,000 affordable homes in rural and island communities between 2016/17 and 2020/21.

“The 2022/23 Budget supports our commitment to deliver 110,000 affordable homes across Scotland by 2032, with at least 70% of these available for social rent and 10% in our remote, rural and island communities.”

He added that funding available for affordable housing had been increased by £174m in 2022/23, bringing the total available over this parliamentary term to £3.618 billion.

“We are also continuing the Rural and Island Housing Fund over the lifetime of the current parliament backed by funding of £30m,” the spokesman said.

“We have committed to developing a Remote, Rural & Islands Housing Action Plan to ensure we meet the housing needs of and retain and attract people to those communities.”