Green light for Gigha’s controversial new homes
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The Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust’s plan to build five homes in Ardminish has been approved by Argyll and Bute Council, but 10 islanders objected and the trust’s original chairperson has claimed ‘democracy no longer reigns’.
The Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust (IGHT), which bought Gigha in 2002, applied last year to build three houses and two flats, with 10 parking spaces, on a field beside the island playpark. The project has divided opinion as the island marks the 20th anniversary of the buyout.
Gigha Community Council objected, concerned about losing ‘an extension of the playpark’ where children play ball games.
William McSporran, IGHT’s very first chairperson, said: ‘The reason for the buyout in 2002 was to rid us of feudalism and give our community a voice on the future of Gigha.
‘We managed successfully to run the trust, giving each member a voice by attending members meetings, where together the community could discuss plans for Gigha and its future. Democracy was key at all times. Sadly democracy no longer reigns.
‘The project has not been discussed with the community at any point.’
Another original IGHT member, Keith Helm, added: ‘We prided ourselves with a good democratic process which took the form of regular face-to-face members meetings.
‘By following this process it gave the whole community the opportunity to voice their opinions on life-changing projects which would affect our island forever. Unfortunately this process is no longer followed.’
A trust spokesperson said the consultation began at a members’ meeting on July 18 2019, when a housing need survey was launched, ‘to inform further development plans, and help establish if there is demand for future new housing in Gigha,’ they said.
‘120 out of 160 residents on the island responded. The survey revealed at least 17 people were either looking to move back to Gigha, or move out of an existing property on the island (i.e. young people wishing to move out from their parent’s property).’
Survey data was made available on the Gigha website, and further updates about the development were included in newsletters and at members’ meetings, they added.
‘This project has not been fast tracked, as we realise that Covid has limited face-to-face opportunities for engagement. In normal circumstances, we would have had further public meetings and open days, however virtual communications were the best we could do.
‘The board have to make decisions on behalf of the island, and providing housing for those in need is an objective of the trust. There has to be a willingness from the community to engage with consultation at the time.’
Objectors also argued there was no need for more houses. Writing in February, one said: ‘I believe approximately seven homes are currently available. Simply providing further accommodation on an island with a proven existing oversupply will not stimulate the economy.’
The IGHT spokesperson disagreed: ‘The trust has 30 residential properties, all of which are occupied. At the time of those objections, there were a small number of vacant properties. Essential maintenance was being carried out, and once advertised, we received multiple applications. The trust has 26 registers on their Home Hunt, further demonstrating the demand for more housing.
An objector argued demand for houses was unlikely to increase, ‘given the absence of new full time jobs on the island’. Another cited ‘a shortage of employment and job opportunities, and more housing would only serve to exacerbate that problem.’
Again, the IGHT spokesperson disagreed: ‘The trust has increased its number of employees by 50 per cent, with 14 posts now in place. The fish farms on Gigha have many employees based on the mainland, as housing is not available on the island.’
Objectors also feared Gigha was being ‘overdeveloped’. ‘Instead of a village, Ardminish is turning into a township,’ said one.
William McSporran added: ‘By overdeveloping Gigha, it is losing the beauty for which Gigha is known. It is turning Gigha into something that people do not want.’
An IGHT spokesperson said: ‘The trust understands we will not have 100 per cent support on all developments, however this small number of objections does not reflect the whole community.’