Soaring house prices and a surge in buy-to-let holiday homes in the Highlands and Islands are driving workers away and hampering growth in lucrative industries, experts have warned.
Registers of Scotland data shows that while average prices across Scotland rose by 89 per cent in 2022 compared to the 2004 baseline, the increase was as high as 168% in Shetland, 135% in the Western Isles and 107% in the Highlands.
The situation is exacerbated by the number of empty homes – with the Western Isles reported as having the highest percentage in the country – and properties being snapped up by buy-to-let landlords.
Salmon Scotland, the trade body for Scotland’s farm-raised sector which sustains 12,500 local jobs and brings in nearly £800 million-a-year for the economy, said a housing shortage is holding back real growth in these vulnerable communities.
In many remote parts of Scotland, salmon farms are vital to the future of local businesses and communities.
Farming companies already provide accommodation for 130 employees and their families after buying or renting suitable housing, but many workers simply cannot find homes near where they work.
Salmon Scotland chief executive Tavish Scott will highlight the challenge in a keynote speech today at the Rural Housing Scotland conference in Dunkeld.
He will say that businesses are struggling to recruit and retain workers and call for £10 million of the money paid by salmon farmers in government rents to be ringfenced for direct investment in rural housing.
At present, millions of pounds paid by salmon farming companies go to the Crown Estate Scotland – the property company which manages the coastal seabed on behalf of the Scottish Government.
Mr Scott will highlight that housing supply shortages are not just a problem for the salmon sector, but for the wider rural economy.
As well as house price rises, the situation is exacerbated by the number of empty homes – with the Western Isles reported as having the highest percentage in the country – and properties being snapped up by buy-to-let landlords.
According to recent research by money.co.uk, in Na h-Eileanan Siar, 13.3 per cent of dwellings are vacant, while the figure is 10.4 per cent in Argyll and Bute, 9.1 per cent in both Orkney and Shetland, and 6.7 per cent in the Highlands.
Salmon worker Norman Peace, 34, counts himself lucky to have found a home for his family on the Orkney island of Stronsay.
He moved there from Orkney’s Mainland with employer Cooke Aquaculture Scotland helping provide a four-bedroom house when he was promoted to a new role.
Now almost three years later, Norman and girlfriend Nicole Ross take an active role in community life and are looking forward to the birth of their second child in June.
He said; “The lack of housing affects a lot of the islands.
“Young people leave to go to university or get a job elsewhere. With the younger ones moving, most of the islands in Orkney are ageing.
“We could do with more council or social housing. People are looking for houses, but they are all full.”
Tavish Scott, chief executive of Salmon Scotland, said: “A lack of affordable housing is stopping the Highlands and islands from becoming a northern powerhouse.
“Salmon farming companies are using their own money to provide warm, comfortable, quality accommodation for people who fill essential roles.
“But the salmon sector can’t solve this crisis alone – urgent action is needed to address the most pressing issue we face across the Highlands and islands.
“That’s why we suggest that £10 million of the money that salmon farmers pay to the landlord Crown Estate Scotland could be invested in tackling the housing crisis.
“The impact of a lack of affordable housing cannot be underestimated – it means not being able to live near where you work, it separates families and contributes to the depopulation of our island communities.”
A Scottish Government Spokesman said: “Good quality housing is essential to attract and retain people in our remote and rural communities and we have committed to delivering 110,000 affordable homes across Scotland by 2032 - with at least 10% in our remote, rural and island areas.
“£3.5 billion funding is being made available in this Parliamentary term towards the delivery of affordable homes which includes continued support of up to £30 million towards our Rural and Island Housing Fund for communities and organisations not able to access traditional affordable housing funding. We are also developing a Remote, Rural and Islands Housing Action Plan, which will be published in the spring.
“Coastal communities across Scotland benefit annually from net revenues generated by the Scottish Crown Estate’s marine assets. These revenues are distributed to coastal local authorities according to a method agreed with COSLA and support the delivery of front-line projects and services to benefit our valued communities.”