Empty streets in Port Charlotte and Portnahaven

During my visit in May I already found out that houses on Islay are relatively expensive, certainly compared to 5 or 10 years ago. Someone even told me that the prices raised with more than 100% in 4 years. No doubt that second home owners have something to do with that. And as a result some streets in Port Charlotte and Portnahaven are almost deserted in the wintertime according to an article in The Ileach Newspaper

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11.1% of all housing in Argyll and Bute is now a second home according to a survey carried out for insurance giant Direct Line. Only the Scilly Isles off the coast of Cornwall has a greater number of 24%, but figures there are skewed by their tiny population of just 2,100. The population of Argyll and Bute is more than 90,000 and includes urban centres such as Helensburgh, Inveraray, Campbeltown and Oban where second home ownership is relatively low. In the fashionable remote villages of Islay that attract second home ownership the figures for second homes can reach 80%.

There are now whole streets of beautiful little houses in Portnahaven and Port Charlotte that have no permanent residents at all. The political reaction to the tide of prosperity for some that has allowed this situation to develop is mixed. While some politicians concentrate on demanding that ever more houses be built, with a statutory proportion being “affordable homes”, others demand that the tax loopholes expoited by the, by definition wealthy, owners be closed. Council Taxdiscounts available on second homes have been reduced from 50% to 10% but the latest scam involves couples each registering one of their homes as individuals, and therefore qualifying for a 25% single person discount on both their properties. This means that the additional revenue from the Council tax hike that was supposed to be ring fenced for the provision of affordable housing has not materialised. Scams like these are one of the reasons why it is notoriously difficult to obtain accurate official figures relating to second home ownership because it is difficult to even define what a second home is. While there are many properties on Islay used by the stereotypical second home owner who arrives for their summerholiday with the Volvo loaded down with supplies procured at some suburban Tesco, while keeping the doors locked for the rest of the year, there are many others who let (share?) the property regularly to a closed circle of family and friends, while still more let on a commercial basis.

Allan Macaskill, leader of Argyll and Bute Council said: “Having homes empty, especially during the winter, has an impact on the viability of the services the Council provides. It means fewer people using buses, village halls and so on. But second home owners still use services such as roads, the police and so on, so it is only fair that all property owners should pay 100% of the Council Tax rather than the 90% maximum at present.”Sarah-Jane Laing of the Scottish Rural Property and Business Association said: “Second Home ownership only becomes a problem when there is a shortage of affordable housing and there is no doubt this is happening in rural Scotland. Recruitment of staff, particularly in the service industries, is difficult if potential employees cannot find anywhere to live.

”Jim Mather MSP said: “ I am not suggesting that all such homes are undesirable but there is little doubt in my mind that such a high proportion of these must inevitably mean that the price and availability of housing for young local people is being adversely affected, especially as another survey earlier this week indicated that some towns in Argyll are amongst the most expensive parts of Scotland for first time buyers.“I have suggested that second home owners should certainly pay at least the full Counciltax for those properties. In addition, areas like Argyll & Bute should have Pressured Area Status where the Right to Buy is suspended for new tenants until the demand for housing is substantially reduced. At present scarce socialhousing stock is being sold off faster than it can be replaced and the consequences for communities is that there is no suitable provision for key workers and young people who want to live and work and raise their families in their own locality. The bottom line is that although allocations from the Executive towards housing are increasing, the sums of money involved do not even come close to meeting the demand forhomes.”

With kind permission of: Ileach.co.uk The Independent Newspaper for Islay and Jura

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