Landward Article For Shetland Times 13th March 2015

The Croft House grant scheme has been an effective way to build houses with government support. All colours of administration have recognised this and many crofting homes have been built using grant and loan assistance. Since 2005 the loan element has gone.

The percentage of costs eligible for grant is and always will be a bone of contention especially with the additional shipping and transport costs that Shetland faces. The further from Lerwick and the added cost of isles travel are all factors. The numbers of new houses being built under the scheme has been steadily falling. So the Scottish Government are now in the midst of a review of the scheme.

This is an opportunity to highlight how grant rates have fallen well behind actual building costs. The rates are 10 years old and have not risen in line with material costs. The banking crisis of 2009 also had major repercussions for lending. Mortgages used to be readily available on building projects being undertaken by an individual. But this pretty well dried up as the banks and building societies withdrew this type of mortgage. Despite much pressure precious little has replaced it so there remains a real lack of mortgage choice for crofters.

So a new factor is worth mentioning as people submit their comments before the consultation closes on 31st March. The Scottish Government has made £70 million available to help first time buyers purchase a home. This is to be an interest free loan. Government will of course argue that these two schemes are unconnected. But a house, whether in Edinburgh’s St Andrews Square, or in Sandness, is a house. So a new loan scheme sets a helpful precedent. The loan element of a Crofting Housing support scheme is now essential given the lack of mortgages. I would encourage people to add that to the case for an improvement to the existing support to build modern croft houses in Shetland.

The implementation of CAP must be causing sleepless nights with government civil servants. At the recent NFU AGM in St Andrews, the new boss of agricultural administration admitted that the computer was causing him the most worry. Well here is a further factor. Payments depend on how crofters use their land and how they use it for agricultural production. But there are concerns that common grazings are being discriminated against as the government are insisting that ewes must belong to the shareholder holding the hill right. This could mean that a grazings could not be fully stocked and entitlement would be withdrawn. I am checking this vital element to ensure fully stocked grazings receive the support they should.

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