The MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch has welcomed the Scottish Government’s plans to bring derelict properties back into use as affordable homes.
Kate Forbes MSP believes that the measure – coupled with better connectivity that could bring more jobs to the Highlands – will help boost rural communities that have been trying to reverse the trend of depopulation.
The announcement was made in the Scottish Parliament chamber by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon as she announced the Programme for Government.
Kate Forbes MSP said: “Depopulation of Highland communities continues to be one of the greatest barriers to economic growth – and people are our greatest resource – with their ideas, their families and their commitment to rural communities
“While previous action by the SNP in government has focused on empowering Scotland’s rural communities, the plans announced for the coming session appear to go even further and expressly put repopulating the Highlands at their very heart.
“Central to that ambition will be providing more homes across rural Scotland, not just by building new homes but by bringing vacant properties back into use.”
The MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch continued: “Across my own constituency you see myriad buildings which once served a useful purpose and now sit idle.
“A single sprawling estate alone might have half a dozen farmhouses, an assortment of byres and steadings, a scattering of cottages, a gatehouse or two or even an old mill all sitting empty.
“But while an abandoned croft house might be a haunting sight on a picture-postcard Highland hillside, for me it should provoke a less wistful, more pragmatic response: let’s turn these houses back into homes.
“It is not a situation unique to the Highlands. From the Borders to Barra, from Aberdeenshire to Ayrshire, thousands of properties lie derelict – some in an advanced state of decay, but many still wind and watertight and in relatively good nick.
“It’s time to bring them back into action to provide much needed homes for young people in rural Scotland.
“This radical policy has huge potential to revitalise huge tracts of Scotland – parts that have historically been, and certainly should be, more populated and thriving than they are today and need jobs and homes.
“By fast-tracking sustainable housing and commercial projects on farm and crofting land, we could see new jobs, new homes and new life breathed into remote communities.”
Kate Forbes MSP added: “None of this can exist in isolation, otherwise it would merely form a blueprint for empty homes.
“Highland Scotland needs more jobs, and I believe that comes from better connectivity.
“Over the summer months, it was announced my equivalent Westminster constituency had the worst connectivity in the United Kingdom – and it is measured by Westminster constituencies, because broadband is a reserved matter.
“But that hasn’t stopped the Scottish Government from intervening – the First Minister has just put rural Scotland right at the front of the queue in our digital revolution, meaning the most remote communities will be the very first to reap the benefits of comprehensive fibre broadband coverage.
“I am delighted that the government will also take forward a rural skills action plan next year to enhance job prospects for young people in my constituency and across rural Scotland.
“I want to hear from people in Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch about what they would do to create new jobs and make their communities flourish.
“I look forward to this bold ambition for the Highlands becoming a reality and to reversing the trend of depopulation once and for all – by repopulating and reinvigorating rural Scotland with houses and jobs.”