Government cash finds a new home in villages

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HOLYROOD is injecting £80,000 into new social rent housing in Roxburghshire villages, writes Sally Gillespie.

Scottish Borders Council plans to use £1,415,000 of council tax cash generated from second homes money to build up to eight houses for rent in Stichill and Newcastleton.

And housing minister Alex Neil has also agreed to put about £5,000 per house of Scottish Government money into both projects.

He said: “It will help to deliver vital affordable housing in two rural settlements.”

The minister congratulated the local authority on its “innovative” plan at the Chartered Institute of Housing conference in Glasgow.

Councillor Ron Smith, SBC portfolio holder for housing, said the council’s executive had approved money from second homes council tax of up to £695,000 next year (2011/12) for Stichill and £720,000 the following year (2012/13) for Newcastleton.

And he described the boost from the Scottish Government as a welcome contribution.

The projects will also be funded through borrowing by Eildon Housing Association.

Its chief executive Nile Istephan said: “Eildon enjoys good working relations with both Scottish Borders Council and the Scottish Government. This funding package represents a real boost for Newcastleton and Stichill and we look forward to getting to work on these projects which we anticipate will be completed during 2012/13.”

The council hopes that building the homes will help sustain construction industry jobs in the area and a spokesperson added the projects will help the council meet identified affordable housing investment needs in two remote rural settlements .

Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP, John Lamont said the plans would provide vitally-needed social housing.

He added: “Everyone knows that there is a serious shortage of affordable rented housing in the Borders, particularly in small communities where pressure on housing stock is already great.

“However, one of the issues raised with me time and again is the difficulties people in rural communities face in trying to get access to affordable housing in their own community.

“The effect of this is to break up communities, to force young people from the communities that they have grown up in and, in the long run, to increase the average age of people living in more remote areas, which has an obvious impact on the provision of services to those communities.”

He added: “I am strongly of the view that if the Scottish Government were to allow social landlords more scope to take into consideration local connections when deciding on housing applications and transfer requests, then this would be a very welcome step. It would help ensure that local people get access to local houses.”

Meanwhile in a question and answer session at a recent SBC meeting, councillors heard SBC’s housing strategy manager, Gerry Begg, is part of a national group advising on bringing empty private sector homes back into use.

The group, the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership Advisory Group, is currently supporting the housing charity Shelter’s empty homes co-ordinator in lobbying for changes in the Housing Bill to enable council officials to share information about tackling empty homes.