The Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF) has provisionally welcomed a review of the Croft House Grant Scheme (CHGS) as long over-due but questions whether proposals go far enough to restore the scheme to its original efficacy.
SCF chair, Fiona Mandeville, said: “We have been pressing for some years for the rates of grant to be reviewed as they have long since fallen well behind actual costs faced by crofters building new homes on their crofts. In the ten years since the current rates were introduced, they have not been raised in line with escalating material costs. This has made it very difficult for many crofters, particularly the younger ones whom we all want to encourage, to have a home on the croft. There also used to be a government loan available which facilitated building. Despite a parliamentary committee recommending the reinstatement of the loan element, Scottish Government has flatly refused to consider it.”
The Scottish Government recently launched a consultation on the Croft House Grant Scheme (CHGS). The scheme provides financial assistance for building and improvement of croft housing with the aim of attracting and retaining people in remote areas of the Highlands and Islands. In 2004 the CHGS replaced the Croft Building Grant and Loan Scheme (CBGLS) which had been helping to build croft houses since 1986.
The rates set at the inception of the CHGS in 2004 (£22,000, £17,000 and £11,500, geographically targeted) were based on the old CBGLS which itself had not been uprated since 1986. Ten years later there has still been no increase. In 2008 it was estimated that the rate of support had declined from 82% (in 1986) to 14% of total build cost. Inevitably this decline will have continued since 2008.
For the next 12 weeks, the Scottish Government is formally seeking views on the future shape of the scheme and its payment rates. The consultation will close on 31st March 2015.
Ms Mandeville continued: “While even minimally increased grant rates are welcome, a grant is just one component of funding a new croft house. There remains the significant hurdle of lenders’ reluctance to make a mortgage available to crofters, due to their lack of effort to understand crofting. We urge the Scottish Government to strengthen their good intentions on crofter housing by pressing mortgage providers to look again at finding ways to offer mortgages to crofters or to reinstate a government loan.”
“We recently wrote to the minister for crofting about the CHGS and raised it on the agenda of the Cross Party Group on Crofting that we secretariat,” Ms Mandeville added.
“We will be meeting the minister soon to discuss this, amongst other crofting issues, and we encourage crofters to respond directly to Scottish Government and our members to make their comments known to SCF to be included in the SCF response.”