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Affordable housing tops agenda

14th March 2005

The Cairngorms National Park Authority has agreed to consider in more detail some radical policy options for tackling the shortage of affordable homes in the Park.

Lack of affordable homes is a major problem in all communities within the Park. The Park Authority’s Local Plan questionnaire last autumn found that two thirds of local people who responded want to see more affordable homes in their community. At least 18 per cent of homes within the Park are second or holiday homes. The development of a new Local Plan for the Park provides the opportunity for the CNPA to introduce policies that will help to increase the supply of affordable housing.

At its Board meeting in Newtonmore on Friday 11 March, the CNPA Board agreed to go ahead with a more detailed assessment of all possible policy options that it could adopt. The assessment will be completed in time for the most appropriate options to be included in the draft Local Plan when it is published in the early summer. Four of the options being considered are as follows:

– The CNPA could continue with the current practice of setting a percentage of affordable housing to be provided within any new development.

– The CNPA could insist that all, or a proportion of newly built housing would be restricted to people who are resident in the Park and key workers coming to the area to meet economic needs. This would effectively create an alternative local housing market with lower than average house prices, while existing housing would remain available for everyone to purchase. This option is being pursued in other National Parks elsewhere in the UK.

– The Park Authority could ask the Scottish Executive to change the rules so that people wishing to change a permanent home into a holiday home would have to apply for planning permission to do so.

– Finally, the option of restricting new houses for use as a principal residence, and not a holiday home, will also be investigated.

Speaking at the meeting, the CNPA’s Head of Planning and Development Control Don McKee said: “We know from the Local Plan consultation that lack of affordable homes is a real problem for every community within the Park. Everyone has the right to a decent home and if people living and working in the Park cannot afford a house the sustainability of our communities is threatened. This in turn would affect the provision of services to visitors to the Park who come not only for the outstanding environment but also for the vibrant communities that help to sustain that environment. The Local Plan is the main tool that we have at our disposal to deal with this problem and the CNPA wishes to take a lead in pursuing innovative solutions.”

“In seeking to address such issues we need to consider policy options which strike a balance between enabling the economic and social development of the area’s communities, while at the same time conserving and enhancing the natural and cultural heritage. It therefore follows that we seriously need to control the level of development and focus on that required to sustain our communities. We hope to work with everyone who has an interest in the Park to this end.”

In order to inform policy decisions, research on the Cairngorms housing system will be carried out by Heriot Watt University. This research work is expected to be completed in time to inform the policies within the draft Local Plan, which is due to be finalised in May.

Speaking at Friday’s meeting, Andrew Harper, Head of Economic and Social Development at the CNP explained the Park Authority’s role in housing: “Housing has a direct bearing on four of the Park’s aims. We will be setting the strategic framework for housing through the National Park Plan, Local Plan and Housing Strategy so we are in an excellent position to ensure that housing issues are tackled in an effective and joined up way. The Park can be a place where new  approaches to the problem of affordable housing are piloted. However, in order to do all of this we need to have a very solid evidence base so that all policies developed by us are based on sound foundations.”

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