Tavish Scott: "People are struggling to find homes, and businesses are experiencing problems recruiting staff or retaining staff because they’re priced out of the local housing market."

Salmon farmers join call to bring empty homes back into use

Unused houses could help solve growing rural accommodation crisis


Salmon sector trade body Salmon Scotland and the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership have made a joint call for vacant properties to be brought back in to use to tackle the rural housing crisis in Shetland.

Analysis shows that almost shows 5% of homes in Shetland (558) were long-term empty in 2021, with around 400 of those having been empty for longer than a year. Homes are classed as long-term empty if they are recorded as empty on council tax records for six months or more.

Salmon Scotland and Scottish Empty Homes Partnership – which is funded by the Scottish Government and hosted by Shelter Scotland - are urging Shetland Islands Council and other local authorities to explore more ways to bring homes back in to use.

More investment

Figures show that 95% of homes brought back in to use across Scotland were in areas with a dedicated empty homes service.

Salmon Scotland has been calling for greater investment in rural housing through an overhaul of the farm licence fee system which would see around £10 million-a-year ringfenced for coastal areas where farms operate.

Shetland and other rural areas are in the grip of a housing crisis with average prices rising more sharply than the national average over many years.

The lack of available, affordable housing is affecting the ability of people to live and work in Highland and island communities, and the turmoil in the mortgage market is expected to exacerbate the problem.

A barrier to the economy

Shetland Islands Council has itself acknowledged that a “lack of suitable housing can be a barrier to key sectors of the economy…”

Shaheena Din: "Empty homes are very much a problem in Shetland."

Shaheena Din, national project manager for the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership, said: “The figures show that empty homes are very much a problem in Shetland, with over 550 long-term empty properties that could be brought back in to use, increasing supply and providing a boost for the local economy.

“We support the campaign by Salmon Scotland to raise the issue of housing in rural areas and hope that action can be taken in Shetland that will help address the concerns of their members.”

Salmon Scotland chief executive Tavish Scott, who is himself a Shetlander, said: “The shortage of available, affordable housing in Shetland and other rural communities is a major issue, exacerbated amid the cost-of-living crisis. People are struggling to find homes, and businesses are experiencing problems recruiting staff or retaining staff because they’re priced out of the local housing market.

Council options

“Councils could explore the options available to them to bring properties back into use.

“We are passionate about supporting the local economies where our farms operate and making rural communities even more attractive places to live and work.”

The Scottish Empty Homes Partnership says that empty house which owners are unwilling to return to use or where owners cannot be traced can cause significant problems for communities.

Compulsory purchase

It argues that that existing powers such as Compulsory Purchase Orders should be used more widely, and that further powers, including Compulsory Sale and Rental Orders, should also be introduced to prevent homes from being left to deteriorate indefinitely.

Consideration must also be given to how to motivate more owners to bring their empty properties back into use, says the Partnership on its website.

“Empty homes officers tell us that owners are difficult to engage and our initial user research on the advice service told us that owners did not know help was available; so, we would encourage local marketing campaigns to highlight the benefits to an owner of bringing their empty property back into use,” says the Partnership.

“As well as this, we recognise that fiscal initiatives such as the vacant dwelling council tax levy can be used effectively with a carrot and stick approach, but additional resources at a local level, such as small grants can unlock empty properties that are stuck.”

Shetland is not the only fish farming area with long-term empty homes.

According to the Partnership, in 2021 there were 1,086 in Argyll and Bute; 2,775 in Highland; 596 in Na h-Eileanan Siar (Western Isles); and 188 in Orkney. There were 43,766 in Scotland. See the full list here.