CONSTRUCTION work on Staffin’s long-awaited affordable housing, health and business development could commence in the summer of 2019.
A total of seven affordable houses, a new medical surgery and business space will be built on Stenscholl common grazings, close to Staffin Primary School.
Staffin Community Trust (SCT) is hopeful that the legal process currently underway to purchase the site and remove it from crofting tenure will be completed and the land in its ownership early in the new year.
Highland Council granted planning permission in March 2018 and the Scottish Land Fund subsequently awarded a grant of £231,700 to allow SCT to purchase the ground and the current Staffin Surgery from NHS Highland, plus legal fees and other costs.
SCT and its partners – the Highlands Small Communities Housing Trust (HSCHT) and Lochalsh and Skye Housing Association (LSHA) – are now working hard to secure the funding for the development in a difficult financial climate and finalising the timetable for the tenders to be issued, with the construction works to start hopefully by next summer.
It would be the first affordable housing development in Staffin for 20 years and comes as the community has suffered population decline in that time, with a drastic shortage of accommodation for younger people and families and a prohibitive property market. SCT is hopeful the new housing will help increase the Bun Sgoil Stafainn roll and ensure the community’s long-term sustainability.
The project also includes a business units’ building and a workshop/storage base.
SCT and NHS Highland have had encouraging discussions about the relocation of the current surgery to one half of the business building. SCT would buy the existing surgery – which dates back to the 1950s and is known locally as the Nurses’ Cottage – so it could be converted into an affordable home. Staffin’s district nurses had lived in the cottage when was first built but it is no longer fit for purpose.
The Staffin development is included in Sir Lewis Ritchie’s independent report on out-of-hours health care provision in Skye, Lochalsh and South West Ross and the development has enjoyed strong community and political backing for several years.
SCT has received nine expressions of interest in the new homes from local families and couples. Two of the properties will be owned by SCT, two by HSCHT and two by LSHA and they will be a range of mixed housing tenure.
The development has been sensitively designed by award winning Skye-based firm Rural Design Architects following community consultation and talks with the township’s croft tenants. Staffin Community Council, which formally made the application for planning permission on behalf of the community, is supportive of the project.
The Scottish Government’s Rural Housing Fund (RHF) and the Scottish Land Fund have funded the planning and design work. These funding streams are designed to help communities, like Staffin, to help tackle key challenges, such as housing. However, there is only two years left of the RHF and SCT is keen to make the most of the current funding opportunities. As part of the planning application Rural Design submitted SCT’s report of the vigorous and transparent process it went through, with input from all the various agencies, to assess all the other sites identified during a Call for Sites in late 2014.
SCT has worked closely for three years with the Lochalsh and Skye Housing Association (LSHA) and the Highlands Small Communities Housing Trust (HSCHT) on this project and signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) in October 2016.
The last affordable housing built in Staffin was on the site of the old primary school. Since then there has been widespread disappointment and concern in north-east Skye as the construction of affordable housing in Skye has been heavily concentrated in more densely populated communities like Portree and Broadford, which has not helped with the retention of young people and other rural districts on the island.
An economic study by Highland economist Steve Westbrook found that Staffin’s population had plummeted by 40 people, from 608 residents to 568 individuals, between 2009 and 2013, a drop of 6.6 per cent. Meanwhile, Portree, which has had significant housing developments built in recent years, has seen its population grew by 11 per cent in the last decade.
In 2013, SCT had set a target that at least 10 new affordable homes are buiIt in Staffin by 2020. It hopes that could help increase the Staffin Primary School roll by another 10 pupils.
On behalf of the SCT, the Highlands Small Communities Housing Trust (HSCHT) submitted a major report on affordable housing needs in Staffin in summer 2014 which identified there was a need for accommodation in the district.
To read the report click here: Staffin Housing Needs Report
The SCT would like to thank Highland Council and Highlands and Islands Enterprise who funded the report and HSCHT for its work, as well as the key role played by former development officer Marion Beaton.
After that report was published and shared with Staffin Community Council, local residents and businesses there was a specially convened meeting about the housing situation in September 2014. That was attended by community council representatives, Highland Council, the Lochalsh and Skye Housing Association and HSCHT. It was decided that a local “Call for Sites” would be issued by the SCT in Staffin asking the community, including local residents and crofting townships, for suggestions on land which might be suitable for new housing. That yielded several sites by the November 2014 deadline.
The SCT sought support and advice from the council’s planning service, the LSHA, HSCHT and Scottish Natural Heritage to assess the various locations proposed. The SCT board of directors subsequently proposed several suitable sites for the council’s West Highland and Islands Local Plan’s own “Call for Sites” after considering the advice from the respective public agencies.
SCT had investigated a site on flat ground past Staffin Primary School, on the Stenscholl Common Grazing, and came to a view that the location was its preferred option. It offers good access to the school, shops and services in Staffin and is on poor grazing – not good quality in by land. The township, in principle, supports the SCT’s plan.
A site investigation was carried out in November 2015 and several test pits were dug and the area assessed by a structural engineer. The indications are that it is a suitable site for a development. SCT is now working hard to progress the proposed location and secure the funding required to work up a sensitive design and planning application in the coming months.
The development is supported by:
- The crofting tenants (Stenscholl township)
- The landlord (Scottish Government Rural Inspections and Food Directorate)
- Staffin Community Council
- The Crofting Commission
- Highlands Small Communities Housing Trust
- Lochalsh and Skye Housing Association
- Kate Forbes, Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP
- David Stewart, Highland regional MSP
- Dave Thompson, former Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP
- Community Land Scotland
- Development Trusts Association Scotland