25th June 2019
By Xander McDade, CNPA Convener
Affordable housing in the Cairngorms National Park is one of the single biggest issues we face in our communities. This issue is most acutely felt by our young people, many of whom cannot move out of their parents’ homes due to both a shortage of supply and the unaffordable rental and purchase prices of the stock that is available. As a young person, I am all too aware of this issue, having spent the last three and a half years trying to buy a house. For many of my peer group, particularly those on low wages, buying a house is a pipe dream, and many are forced to move out of the National Park and into bigger towns and cities to find somewhere to live.
This is not only a personal issue for our young people, but a very real issue for our businesses who often struggle to attract and retain staff due to high housing costs. The depopulation of our younger citizens is a very pressing issue as without them we will struggle to provide essential services and have a thriving economy.
Although housing is not a statutory role for the Cairngorms National Park Authority, we are passionate about trying to address these issues and our staff are currently supporting a number of excellent community housing initiatives.
However, there is no single answer. It requires partnership working from both our public and private sectors within the Park and our communities to help address it. As part of our commitment to addressing this critical issue, the CNPA has proposed a 45 per cent affordable housing requirement on four communities in the National Park, which have the most significant housing pressures, as part of our proposed Local Development Plan.
This issue is not solely one that exists in the National Park, but is being experienced by rural communities across Scotland. I recently attended the Strengthening Communities Conference hosted by Highlands & Islands Enterprise in Aviemore and affordable housing – particularly for young people and key workers – was consistently raised.
The CNPA held two fringe events at the conference, one on young people and their future in rural communities, and the other looking at key issues for our communities including affordable housing, community land ownership and broadband. These issues cannot be looked at in isolation, and very much require a holistic approach.
With regards to affordable housing, I’m happy to report that progress is being made. 108 affordable units gained planning approval from the CNPA in 2018/19. There are 16 new council houses in Grantown and six new mid market rental properties. In Aviemore a redundant office block is being turned into 26 affordable units and elsewhere in the Park Aberdeenshire Council is turning the Ballater Old School into 26 affordable homes while Atholl Estates gained permission for eight new affordable units in Blair Atholl. There remains demand but it’s going in the right direction.
For our part the National Park is committed to working with our partners to address all of these issues and they are very much at the core of the work we do with our communities. If you are interested in learning more about our community housing work and would perhaps like to explore the possibility in your community then we’d love to hear from you.