Petition launched to tackle jobs and housing crisis on Skye



An open letter to the Scottish Government has called for action to end the jobs and housing crisis on the Ilse of Skye.

The letter, which is accompanied by an online petition that has already been signed by more than 1,800 people, said there is an “existential crisis”, with islanders having become victims of modern-day Clearances.

It reads: “Skye is in danger. Rising house prices and a lack of sustainable work make it almost impossible for young people to stay in the communities they call home.

Whether our families have lived here for generations or we have been lucky enough to have become new Sgitheanachs, most of us are priced out of the villages we grew up in.

Previously affordable properties are now sold at thousands of pounds above their asking price, too often to buyers who have no intention of living on or at times even visiting Skye. Profiteering investors are ransacking our island. Owners of multiple holiday lets - ripped from the available housing stock - are putting their personal wealth over our fragile island communities and culture.

“10% of island homes are now second homes, compared to only 1% across Scotland. The average house price on Skye has been forced up to £291k. This pricing level is not sustainable if we are serious about maintaining and protecting the Island’s local and young population.

“The effect of the current housing market trend is devastating. When looking out over the villages of Staffin or Waternish, half of the lights are out. Former family homes lie dormant for half the year in anticipation of high paying travellers looking to experience Skye in 3 days or less.

“Our once vibrant, vigorous villages are now emptying. We have reached an existential crisis - the tipping point. Bold action must be taken, or Skye (and the rest of the Highlands & Islands) will never be the same.”

With an election looming, the letter had called for an overhaul of the housing register allocation scheme to ensure locals have priority when being allocated housing for rent in their local area.

It said: “Affordable housing must be a priority - not just Government funding being made available but a real push for development. Projects should be located throughout our island communities, not just centred around central villages like Portree or Broadford.

“We need a clampdown on second (third and fourth!) property ownerships for short-term lets. Multiple short-term let ownership is a key driver in killing our local communities, contributing to Gaelic’s decline and degrading island opportunities and culture. It is mercenary behaviour that stands in complete opposition to local society and young people.

“It should be extremely difficult to change the use of any established housing into short term let accommodation. We already have difficulty managing over-tourism issues; additional tourist accommodation will not improve this situation.”

David MacDonald, who helped create the letter, told the Press & Journal: “It has definitely come to a head. The situation is desperate.”

He said doctors and other NHS staff are among those who are unable to find places to rent in Skye. He added: “Even paying £1,000 there is nowhere. Unless you are willing to pay Airbnb prices, which are generally £200 a night, you can’t live here.

“In order to get a house you need a well paid job to pay a mortgage of £300,000 and there are not many jobs here that can support that. We see this happen in places like Cornwall and we can’t let it happen to Skye.

“We’ve put something out there that has touched a nerve and got 1,000 signature in less than 24 hours. This is the start of us being organised and directing our frustration and trying to do something about it.”

Skye councillor John Gordon commented: “It’s encouraging to see young people taking a lead with this petition and being a voice for the issues we are facing on the Island. These issues have been discussed a lot and the whole situation needs a radical overhaul.

“It’s now come to a point where change and decisions need to be made, a strategic approach from the government and the council and other stakeholders as well as our communities is needed.

“I would strongly encourage people to sign the petition.”

Highland Council leader Margaret Davidson said a Skye area committee already has extensive powers. She said: “This is not a centralist council, we have been steadily decentralising many decision and will do more.

“There are plans for affordable housing in Skye. There needs to be more, but there needs to be more money allocated from central government.”