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November 19, 2019

Rethink housing demand 

To the casual observer of the housing market, it would be easy to conclude that everyone wants to live as close to the urban centres as possible. The evidence being that the constant supply of new houses being built by the volume house-builders must reflect where the demand for housing exists. But is that an accurate picture of the market?  What if houses were built in more sparsely populated areas? Would there be a demand for them? It seems there might be following the experience of the community on Ulva who simply invited notes of interest.

Rohese Devereux Taylor,  The Herald

The population of a small Hebridean island could soar by 6,000 per cent if applications to become its newest residents are accepted.

More than 350 people lodged their interest in living on the Isle of Ulva, which is currently home to just six people.

But prospective residents have been warned not to expect a decision soon.

A survey was created last year to select potential new islanders after hundreds applied to forge a new life off the west coast of Mull.

Established residents are keen for people to move to the island to start a business, or to run an enterprise from its shores.

In its prime during the 18th and 19th centuries, Ulva was home to at least 800 people buoyed by the kelp market.

It recently lost a resident with the departure of Jamie Howard, a member of the previous owning family whose grandmother bought the island for £10,000 in the 1940s.

Now in an update, the North West Mull Community Woodland Company Ltd, which owns Ulva, said: “There has been a gratifying amount of interest from people wishing to make their homes on Ulva and everyone has been added to a list and will be contacted when we are ready to move to the formal application stage.

“It does need to be clearly stated that this will not be very soon.”

Now the company that owns it will work with the Argyll and Bute Council planning department to contract architects to renovate existing houses, many of which are in a ruinous state.

There are also plans to construct new homes on the island, but the North West Mull Community Woodland Company Ltd has identified that many of the prospective residents want to restore already existing structures.

They said: “Many of the folk interested in moving to Ulva have indicated that they would be happy to carry out their own renovations, this just isn’t possible as all the major work will have to be done by accredited builders as part of the overall plan.”

They have assured applicants that the project won’t be “fulfilled in a piecemeal way” and assured them that planning to repopulate Ulva was under way, stressing that it “has to be done right”.

“We are moving the paperwork forward as fast as we can but are dependent on the procedures of many outside organisations who cannot be hurried. Everyone who has expressed an interest in living or working on Ulva will be contacted, but please bear with us while we get the infrastructure sorted out.”

The Highlands Small Communities Housing Trust (HSCHT) created the survey to identify individuals, families, and businesses who wish to relocate to Ulva and become part of the community.

The survey, accessed through the HSCHT website, Facebook or Twitter pages, highlighted the opportunities available on Ulva, and the sort of skills and experience needed for it to become sustainable.

Some of the suggested careers for applicants included joiners, roofers, crofters, tour guides and foresters.

One of the main objectives for Ulva is to get agriculture going again on the island. At present there is just a small flock of rather wild Hebridean sheep and a few feral goats.

A key part of the plan is to establish a herd of high-land cattle, starting with around 35 weaned calves this autumn. Each piece of enclosed farmland has been assessed for its potential, not only for agriculture but also in terms of biodiversity and an appropriate management plan assigned in each case.

Some fields will be managed to encourage re-establishment of corncrakes, while others will target waders, or the enhancement of species-rich wildflower meadows.

On June 21 last year, the island was the subject of a successful – and controversial – community buy-out.

Islanders, represented by North West Mull Community Woodland Company Ltd, were able to secure up to £4.4 million in funds from the Scottish Land Fund, and other grants from the Macquarie Group and a crowdfunding campaign to allow it to buy the island.

Donations of  £37,000 from more than 500 supporters from around the world boosted the campaign.

Mr Howard, whose family has owned the 4,500-acre island for more than 70 years, was unhappy over the sale.

The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 gives communities the right to register and then go on to buy land and assets under certain conditions.

Mr Howard previously said that the community group would “struggle to find suitable funding both for the purchase and development of the island, running into many millions of pounds.”

But local MSP Michael Russell backed the sale and said:”Community purchase gives a new opportunity for Ulva.

“There is a huge amount of goodwill on Mull, in Argyll, across Scotland and even more widely towards the proposed community buyout.

“Moreover it would give an exciting new start for an island that has great potential which will include plans for re-population which this area desperately needs.”