Visitors to the Hebridean Islands of Coll and Colonsay in the last couple of years will have noticed the impressive work being carried out in improving their airfields. They might have speculated that this work heralded greatly improved accessibility for holidaymakers, including folk interested in the second home potential of either of these islands, with the possibility of services from Glasgow along the lines of those already available to Tiree and Benbecula courtesy of Loganair.
In fact, the investment in improved airfields by Argyll and Bute Council (with grants from the European Union) was made to facilitate an air service from Oban to each island with the particular aim in view of enabling secondary school children to do their weekly commute to school on the mainland more easily. Furthermore, the council has yet to find a carrier to contract to fly the services it was envisaging; all in all the investment has turned out to be fairly controversial.
This story of frustration illustrates some of the main determining factors for the future development of the Scottish: their innate attractiveness, their economic and social fragility and the overriding importance of improved transport links.
The more accessible districts in the Scottish Highlands and Islands such as Oban, Fort William, Loch Alsh and (following the completion of the Skye Bridge) the Isle of Skye have residential property markets like any other part of the UK. For the more remote areas (chiefly the islands but also districts that are ‘almost islands’ such as Morvern or Ardnamurchan) investors need to weigh carefully if they can afford an exit strategy that is really a matter of waiting for someone else who ‘likes the life’ to come along. Obstacles notwithstanding, there are signs of interest on the part of second home owners, not least a significant amount of new build in most parts of the region, some of it in a bolder ‘CAD-Scottish’ style. Sale of plots of land with planning permissions seems to be on the increase.
Consideration needs to be given to topics such as the cost of visits, food provisioning and the possibility of visits being unexpectedly delayed or prolonged owing to bad weather. Possibly, the most important factor to take account of is one’s willingness or ability to make a contribution to the locality of one’s choice. For example, the economy of an island with a few hundred inhabitants will benefit far more from properties that are let out than from a second home that’s only in use for one month a year.
On the plus side the Hebrides offer superb coastal scenery, rich wildlife, relaxing atmosphere and the UK’s best beaches. The weather story is not all bad, either. Coll and Tiree offer the UK’s highest sunshine records and although the wind is a fact of life, at sea level the climate is normally very mild. All-in-all ideal for anyone trying to escape Mediterranean-type heatwaves in Southern England or global warming effects in general.
The islands vary in all sorts of ways, not least in size, from the very small such as Canna, Gigha or Iona, where the sea will almost always be in view to Mull or Harris and Lewis, as large as counties. The Uists and Benbecula offer something in between as the chain of islands has been linked by causeways – North Uist and Berneray in particular offer superb coastal scenery.
The Hebrides could well do with the level of imaginative commitment to rural economies shown by Norway in its ‘districts policy’. In the long term the islands’ property markets seem bound to improve but it may have to wait for improvements in air and ferry services. Pro-active steps to improve the liquidity of the market would be a welcome step forward, starting perhaps with one of Scotland’s financial institutions being willing to ‘make a market’ in development land. Visit the following for estate agency services in the region: DM McKinnon, McIntyre & Co, MacPhee & Partners.