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Exploring Orkney’s Constitutional Future: Housing

In this series of articles we are looking at the main issues and questions that need to be answered by councillors in Orkney in their investigations into Orkney separating from Scotland and the UK. So far we have covered Education and Health and Social Care as these are two of the most expensive services being delivered by the Council. In this article we look at Housing.


Whilst there is housing available in Orkney, what is in short supply is affordable housing, both to rent and to buy. This has serious consequences for the sustainability of the islands: retaining our young people and families, encouraging workers to come here.

Rented accommodation is provided by private landlords, OIC and social housing through Orkney Housing Association. There is a waiting list and OIC posts pleas on social media to private landlords to find accommodation for incoming workers.

The Orkney News recently published a piece on housing statistics: Providing Housing For Key Workers

The Scottish Government is providing funding of £25 million to support local authorities in their endeavours to find affordable housing for key workers in their communities. The funding, over a 5 year period, will help local councils and registered social landlords to acquire or lease properties which can be used to provide homes to meet the needs of key workers. The Affordable Housing Supply Programme is designed to make best use of underused or empty properties focussing on the needs of key workers and others in need of housing.

The lack of affordable housing is not just an Orkney problem, but for councillors arguing for separation, they need to consider how this issue will be tackled if Orkney breaks away from the UK and Scotland.

From 2017 – 2020 OIC completed no new council houses. In 2021, 36 were completed and in 2022, 8. Total from 2017 – 2022 = 44 houses

Over that same period in Orkney the total number of houses completed by the Housing Association was, 137.

And you can see all over Orkney, especially in Kirkwall, new houses being built for the buyers market.

But good quality and affordable rented accommodation is what is needed – and that simply isn’t there. It’s perhaps not seen as a priority by councillors who have themselves second homes in the islands, but for increasing numbers of Orcadians, including the elderly, it is a significant issue.

Recently there has been some good news for projects in the islands, £433,976 Funding Boost for Two Community Housing Projects in Orkney, but for some it is still a struggle to get financial backing, Funding Boost to Hope CoHousing Project

The Scottish Government’s  Housing to 2040 sets a new ambition to deliver 100,000 affordable homes by 2031/32 which will make an important contribution to tackling child poverty and our continuing work to end homelessness.”

The Affordable Housing Supply Programme delivers homes in rural and island communities and offers appropriate subsidy levels to recognise the higher cost of development in these areas. Around 4,800 affordable homes have been delivered in rural and island communities in the four years to March 2020. In that time, over £59 million has been invested in the islands alone to provide affordable homes on Islay, Orkney, Shetland, the Outer Hebrides, Mull, Raasay and Barra, among others.

The next ambitious phase of the programme will continue to provide affordable homes in rural and island communities. In addition to the mainstream programme, communities will also be supported by the continuation of the Rural and Islands Housing Fund beyond March 2021, backed by up to £30 million of investment. The fund aims to increase the supply of affordable housing across all tenures, and helps groups such as community organisations, development trusts and private landowners to build new affordable housing, refurbish existing properties and bring empty properties into use including the conversion of commercial and non-domestic properties into houses. It also provides feasibility funding to help groups explore the options and range of possibilities. (15 March 2021)

new houses in Kirkwall
Orkney Housing Association New Builds Kirkwall

So what could change if Orkney decides to separate from Scotland which it has been part of for over 550 years?

The States of Guernsey, Crown Dependency, population over 63,000

Guernsey Housing Association and the Government of Guernsey provides social housing.

Rent and partial ownership housing statistics GHA

  • 237 households waiting for Rented accommodation
  • 190 households waiting for Partial Ownership accommodation
  • Total of 427 households waiting.
  • Plus 122 existing households in social rented housing who need to move to more suitable accommodation.

The Housing association has 1032 properties

There is a shortage of affordable housing especially for attracting healthcare workers to take up employment in Guernsey. To be eligible for social housing you must have residential status “The applicant must be able to demonstrate they have the long-term ability to reside lawfully in any local market accommodation (this may include applicants who meet the criteria and are returning to the Island). Employment Permits of any duration are not accepted.”

Whatever your nationality or circumstances, certain restrictions still apply if you are not a Qualified Resident in Guernsey. These restrictions essentially affect the category of property that incoming residents may occupy. Guernsey has a local housing market and an open housing market, details of which can be found here. For those who are given a permit to occupy Local Market property, these permits also restrict the number of years that an individual may live on the island in Local Market accommodation.

There are limitations on who can live in Guernsey and be housed there, you can find out more here: How does the Guernsey housing market operate?

The Faroes, an autonomous territory of the Kingdom of Denmark. Population 54,000

“MPs in the Faroese Parliament, Føroya Løgting, voted in favour of a law on 7 December 2021 restricting foreigners from buying real estate in the country. Before the new law came into effect, there were no rules preventing foreign nationals from owning or buying a home or land in the Faroe Islands.”  – Guide to Faroe Islands “The new law says that foreign nationals with no affiliation to the Danish Kingdom can not buy property in the Faroe Islands without specific government permission. In order to buy a property, foreigners must have resided within the Kingdom of Denmark for a least five years.” The idea behind that measure was because it was felt too many non-islanders were buying up property in the islands for secondary/holiday homes and investment purposes.

Up until recently there has been very little rental social housing in The Faroes, it being mostly private rentals or purchased. The Housing Assoication, Bústaðir, was founded in 2013 . It is active throughout the Faroe Islands and works with local administrations to build affordable homes. It can provide low-interest loans for the conversion of existing homes in connection with energy-saving measures.

Norway, Independent Nation , population 5.4million

Foreign citizens  living in Norway and people living abroad may freely purchase housing or property in Norway. However, you should be aware that certain types of property may involve an obligation to live in the property (boplikt) or farm the land on the property (driveplikt). This applies to properties in popular holiday areas and agricultural properties. Agricultural properties may also be subject to a type of birthright (odelsrett). This means that you may lose the right to the property to someone with birthright. The same applies to purchase of a tenant-owned flat, where someone with pre-emption rights can take the flat from you. In all cases, you must be informed of this before you sign the agreement, and you will be given a refund. – Housing in Norway

Housing in Norway consists of:

  • self-owned property (selveierbolig)​​​​​​
  • rental property (leiebolig)
  • tenant-owned flat (borettslag) / housing cooperative flat (andelsleilighet) / flat in housing company (aksjeleilighet)

Living costs in Norway are high compared to most countries. In recognition of this the government provides

  • Housing allowance (grant) – including electricity bills from the Norwegian State Housing Bank
  • Start-up loan from NAV

for those eligible to apply. To qualify it depends on your income and different areas have differing housing costs. The government has also been cracking down on short term lets which it considered were being used by investors as a money making venture.

It must be noted that the above examples of The Faroes and The States of Guernsey both have much larger populations than Orkney. And Norway is an independent nation similar in population size to Scotland. What they all share, however, is a desire to build (and some are achieving it) more affordable social housing and limiting who can buy up property as an investment opportunity.

nick Morrison's self build straw house in Orphir overlooking the Bay of Scapa Flow
The Straw House Orphir Image credit Martin Laird

Fiona Grahame

Also in this series so far: Exploring Orkney’s Constitutional Future: Education and Exploring Orkney’s Constitutional Future: Health and Social Care

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