A house on Uist is being sold to islanders or first-time buyers only amid a boom in second-home ownership in the pandemic.
The three-bed house, in Daliburgh, South Uist, Outer Hebrides, is being sold for offers over £100,000 by social landlord the Hebridean Housing Partnership (HHP), connected to the Western Isles Council, known in Gaelic as Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.
The decision to restrict who can attempt to buy the ex-social housing home which was built in the 1960s has been “universally” welcomed, as Uist faces a shortage of workers and an ageing population.
Property prices in the Hebridean islands have rocketed in the course of the pandemic, with some advertised as being in “walk in condition as holiday homes”, and a former croft went on sale for £1.5m on the Isle of Harris recently.
Remote working during the pandemic has also made the islands an option to city-dwellers able to offer more cash and in July the Scottish Government pledged £43m to build affordable homes on the Western Isles amid fears of population decline.
An estimated 40% of housing stock on both Tiree, Inner Hebrides, and West Harris, Western Isles, were holiday homes last year and prices in the chain of islands more than doubled from £65,189 in 2004, to £123,048 in 2019.
Action is being taken now – similarly to a recent sale of a crofting cottage on Eigg, Inner Hebrides, which barred second-home owners – in a bid to prevent the situation escalating to the extent it has done in other holiday destinations.
Director of operations at HHP, John MacIver said: “I’ve read about Cornwall where houses are in complete darkness in winter because they’re second homes.
“It’s a real challenge across the country and something which has become much more of an issue in the past few years.
“The second homes thing really began to push up property prices in the past five years, it’s been noticeable.
“Before they had been pretty stable.
“The £1.5m croft has caused a bit of a stooshie locally.
“People with significant money to burn who have made their money are looking for something to do.
“There are locals who have second homes and rent them out, it’s not only external.”
Mr MacIver said people who chose to settle on Uist could expect to be welcomed and that it was not intended to bar people from the mainland making it their home.
He added: “It’s not specifically targeted at the indigenous population, it might be something that we do again in future.
“It will be interesting to see how it plays out.
“We have got an ageing population and a decrease in working population, and significant difficulties in recruitment not only in the care sector but across many sectors in the islands now, we are not totally clear on the cause but Brexit may have contributed.
“The reaction at the moment has been universally positive.”
Chief executive of HHP Dena Macleod, said: “We discussed the property with the council and agreed the sale presented an opportunity to offer it to first time buyers and contribute to the work being done locally to stem population decline.
“If this action can help one local young person in getting a foot on the ladder and to get a house of their own, it is a positive step.”
Pàdruig Moireasdan, 25, a crofter and musician of Grimsay, who helped organise the Uist housing campaign, praised the initiative.
He said: “I think it is a fantastic step and a really exciting development and its something I would really like to see more of.
“It comes as we are seeing, even over the last few months, estate agents on Harris advertising properties as being in walk-in condition as holiday homes, so to see this from HPP is a really welcome contrast.
“I would like to see estate agents on the islands encourage vendors to put in these clauses for houses where possible.
“Over the past six months, I have known young interested buyers putting in offers well over the asking price but been beaten by someone who has come in with a cash offer or £20,000 or £30,000 over the asking price.
“That is the battle we face.”
The population of the Outer Hebrides is set to fall by 16% or by just over 4000 people and the working age demographic is facing the fastest decline in Scotland, with a 25% increase in those aged 75 and over projected by 2028.
The Scottish Government is consulting on a proposed £50,000 “island bond” to encourage families to relocate.
Dr Alasdair Allan, MSP for MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (SNP), said: “HHP are to be commended for listening to concerns and putting restrictions in place for this sale.
‘I hope such restrictions can be more widely utilised in future.
“Over the past few years, young people have increasingly struggled to get onto the island housing market.
“Property prices have surged but younger islanders don’t have the economic power to keep up.
“More and more properties are becoming AirBnBs or second homes at the same time we’re trying to tackle depopulation.
“It’s not a sustainable situation if we want the islands to keep having communities instead of holiday villages.”