Colonsay Case Study

Colonsay Housing Initiative


Colonsay Community Development CompanyHighlands & Islands Enterprise, Scottish Homes, West Highland Housing Association, Argyll & Bute Council, Colonsay Estate, Rural Housing Service


The Colonsay community took the initiative to improve housing opportunities on the island for local people and to provide housing for new families to the island.

A Colonsay Housing Strategy was developed by the Rural Housing Service in partnership with the community, Colonsay Estate, Scottish Homes, Argyll & the Isles Enterprise and  Argyll & Bute Council. This will see the building of new housing association houses, the renovation of estate properties, support for self-builders and the development of accommodation for incoming families.

Island Profile

The beautiful Hebridean island of Colonsay lies off the coast of Argyll. Colonsay, together with Oronsay is approximately ten miles long and two miles wide. It is one of the smallest and most remote of the inhabited Hebridean islands.

The island is served by a ferry service from Oban three times a week in the winter, and has an additional service to Islay in the summer months.

Colonsay is largely owned by the Colonsay Estate which operates holiday accommodation and has an interest in most of the farms on the island. There are a number of independent bsuinesses, mostly tourist related. The small number of non-tourist businesses include a publishing company (The House of Lochar), an oyster farm and honey producer.

The islands of Colonsay and Oronsay have a population of almost 100. The population is split between 3 main settlements: Scalasaig, the port, Kilchattan, the main crofting community and location of the Primary School, and Kiloran, the location of Colonsay House.

The island has its own primary school (7 pupils and 3 nursery children), a hotel, a shop and post office and a cafe/restaurant. The island has a resident doctor and a district nurse. From the age of 12 children must go to the mainland for high school, where the majority board in a hostel in Oban. The limited number of boats make it very difficult for children to come home for the weekend.

Lucy McNeill, a local artist and Initiative at the Edge Project Officer explained some of the islands difficulties “ One of the greatest restrictions on the island is choice. There is no choice in accommodation, access to the mainland, education, entertainment or general services. The island suffers from a co-dependency on the estate and upon a transport service shared with much larger islands”.

Initiative at the Edge

Colonsay is one of eight remote and fragile areas of Scotland that were part of the Initiative at the Edge/ Iomairt aig an Oir.

Iomairt aig an Oir aims to secure priority support for remote and fragile areas from public sector agencies. The initiative brings together Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the Crofters Commission, Scottish Homes and Scottish Natural Heritage and local authorities to develop integrated approaches to the problems facing fragile and remote communities.

The focus of Iomairt aig an Oir is to promote community based development, to enable communities themselves to develop their own ideas and to work in partnership with government agencies and the local authority to develop successful projects.

Colonsay was selected to be part of the Iomairt aig an Oir because of the fragile nature of the island economy and community. The population of the island has been in decline for a number of years and the population is ageing.

“ When the Initiative at the Edge was established the community identified two areas fundamental to the survival of the island- housing and transport. These continue to be the biggest challenges faced by the residents of Colonsay” Lucy McNeill

Background to the Housing Initiative

In May 1999, the Rural Housing Service received a call from Andrew Abrahams an oyster farmer on Colonsay asking for help to highlight the housing problems on the island.  He related how he wanted to take on someone to work at the Oyster Farm but that there was no housing  for them on the island. He also highlighted how poor housing and limited housing choice was causing local families to leave the island and contributing to its depopulation. He asked if the Rural Housing Service could help to solve some of the island’s housing problems.

In September 1999, Derek Logie from the Rural Housing Service visited Colonsay to meet with local people and discuss what they saw as the main housing related problems on the island.

The main problems identified by the community were:

  • limited housing choice – 38% of the islands households live in Colonsay Estate houses
  • limited social rented housing on the island
  • external pressures on the owner occupation market from holiday homes
  • limited access to land to build new housing and high cost of building
  • poor condition of Colonsay Estate houses
  • short and insecure tenancy agreements from Colonsay Estate
  • lack of housing available for incoming families

The community identified an increase in the housing options and choice available to islanders as essential to meeting housing needs, reducing dependency on Colonsay Estate and creating housing opportunities for people to come to the island. The increase in the housing options and security of the population would they hoped help to stabilise the population and lead to further sustainable development of Colonsay.

Despite the many housing problems facing the island there were no plans to develop further social housing there. The local housing association, West Highland HA had only two people on its waiting list for the 4 houses it had developed in 1994 at the cost of £400,000.

However with support from Scottish Homes and Argyll & the Islands Enterprise it was decided that the Rural Housing Service should develop a housing strategy for the island, to investigate housing conditions and needs and to suggest ways in which the different housing issues could be addressed.


Colonsay Housing Strategy

The main points from the Housing Strategy are outlined below.

Colonsay Housing

There are a total of 89 houses on the island of Colonsay. These are split between the settlements of Kilchattan (27), Scalasaig (24), Kiloran (15), Glassard (8), Uragaig (4), Machrins (3) and the small settlements at the south of the Island (8).

There are 50 houses that are fully occupied on the island – 55% of the total stock. The remaining 39 houses are holiday homes/lets (34:38%), church properties (2:2%), empty properties (2:2%), and 1 part -occupied      (1:1%).

Holiday homes make up the largest single category of housing on Colonsay- 38% (34), the next largest is Colonsay Estate rented property which accounts for 25% (22) of the stock, owner occupied housing represents 22% (20) of the stock. Public sector housing on the island accounts for just 9% (8) of the total stock. The last council house let was in 1987.

Colonsay Estate

Colonsay Estate owns the majority of the island of Colonsay. The land holding includes the Estate Farms at Garvard, Scalasaig, Balnahard, Baleromindubh and Machrins. There are small parts of the island, which are not owned by the Estate, mainly croft land in Kilchattan and the Glebe land at the Church of Scotland Manse in Scalasaig.

Colonsay Estate dominates the housing market on Colonsay. The Estate owns 44 properties on Colonsay- 49% of all housing on the island. Currently, 22 of their properties are let to island households, 19 are let as holiday houses, 2 are empty and 1 -Colonsay House – is occupied by the Estate Owner, the Howard family. The Estate owns all the houses in the settlements of Kiloran and Machrins and substantial amounts of property in Kilchattan and Scalasaig.

Holiday Homes/Lets

There are 34 houses on Colonsay, which are used as holiday accommodation. This represents 38% of all housing on the island. In addition there are holiday chalets at Scalasaig and holiday flats in Colonsay House.

Colonsay has over 5 times the level of holiday homes in Argyll & Bute generally, where 7% of housing are second and holiday homes.

Nineteen of the holiday properties are owned by Colonsay Estate and let as holiday houses[1]. Eight other properties are let as holiday homes; four by island residents. The remaining 7 houses are used by their owners as holiday homes and are generally not let commercially.

The last three houses sold on Colonsay were bought for holiday homes or to let as holiday houses.

The main impact of this pressure from external buyers on the Colonsay Housing Market is to raise the cost of housing for sale and the price expectations of house sellers

Owner Occupation

There are 20 homes that are occupied full-time by their owners including three houses which were bought through Right to Buy from Argyll & Bute Council by their current owners. Three houses were built by their owners, one with a Rural Home Ownership Grant from Scottish Homes.

There is currently a substantial amount of house construction being undertaken on Colonsay. However construction costs are high £75,000 – £100,000 because most tradesman and all materials have to be imported on the ferry. Land for sites is difficult to get and when available sites tend to be expensive £15-20,000 per house plot.

Rented Housing

Colonsay Estate owns all the private rented housing on Colonsay. The estate let 22 houses on a permanent basis; 15 are let on assured or short assured tenancies, four are let as part of Agricultural Tenancies and a further three are croft tenancies. The lack of long term tenancies is the main reason people did not feel confident in their housing futures on Colonsay, and in turn their ability to remain on the island.

The rents charged by the Estate depend on the type of tenancy agreement. Assured tenants generally pay between £100 – £150 per month. Short Assured tenants can pay between £300 and £400 per month in rent.

The private rented sector represents 44% of the occupied housing stock on the island, compared to 16% in Argyll & Bute as a whole and 8.5% in Scotland.

West Highland Housing Association have 4 houses on the island at Scalasaig built in 1994. The houses are three bedroom semi-detached and barrier free and were first let in November 1994. There has subsequently been one re-let in July 1996.

WHHA currently have one applicant on their waiting list with Colonsay as an area of first choice.

Argyll & Bute Council Housing Department have two houses (4% of occupied stock) on the island. The council originally had 5 houses, which were bought, from Colonsay Estate in 1980.  Three have been sold on to sitting tenants through Right to Buy with discount- the last in 1994 for £16,400.

The last re-let of a council house on Colonsay was on 4 June 1987. The council currently have eleven applicants registered on their waiting list for housing on Colonsay- 11% of the island population.

There are also two houses on the island, which are let to the schoolteacher and the Doctor. The District Nurse is a tenant of Argyll & Clyde Health Board who sub-let a house from Colonsay Estate.

 House Conditions

The main problems with house conditions are concentrated houses in the private rented sector.  Six tenants described their homes as being in either a poor or very poor condition. The remaining eight stated that they were in reasonable condition. Nevertheless these tenants also highlighted a range of problems with their homes ranging from dampness to poor heating and bad insulation

Common problems highlighted by tenants were Dampness (8), Poor Heating (7), Poor Insulation (7), Poor Drainage (4), and Condensation (3).  Six tenants over 60, mostly single women, are living in houses that are damp, are poorly heated and badly insulated.

 Housing Needs

All (14) of the private tenants who responded to the survey have a measurable housing need, based on their insecurity of tenure, occupation of Below Tolerable Standard housing, overcrowding

and medical conditions aggravated by current housing conditions.


  • 7 households are living in Below Tolerable Standard housing  as a result of rising and penetrating damp
  • 1 house is  Below Tolerable Standard due to damp and the location of the WC
  • 4 households have insecure tenancies
  • 1 household is overcrowded
  • 2 households need adaptations to their homes

Six of the tenancies are single female households where the occupants are over 60 and living in poor housing conditions which may be detrimental to their health.

There are two tenants in housing need currently in public sector housing. One is living in overcrowded conditions (6 people in a 5-person house). The other has a medical condition that is aggravated by their current house. There is one owner-occupier in housing need – who currently lives in a caravan. There are two households – one at present off the island- who are living c/o another household.

Total Housing Need

There are a total of 18 households on Colonsay who have a housing need.

Housing Demand/Aspirations

There are three distinct housing demands/aspirations amongst those in housing need:

  • 3   elderly housing
  • 8  housing association/council housing
  • 6  building/buying own house


The Housing Strategy had the following conclusions and recommendations:

 Housing Choice

There is limited housing choice on Colonsay. The housing market is dominated by holiday homes – the largest single “tenure”. The demand for holiday homes on Colonsay inflates the price of housing for sale – 3 out of 4 recent house sales have been for holiday homes. The market is also very small, 4 houses have been sold on the island in the last 6 years.

The alternative route to owner occupation, building a new house, is expensive. The price of land is high – £12 –15,000 for a 1/3 acre plot being typical. The cost of importing materials on the ferry is high and the cost of subsistence and accommodation makes labour expensive. The average recent cost of the new houses built with Rural Home Ownership Grants on the island is £69,000. The cost of building makes access to owner occupation extremely difficult for households on low incomes, even with support from Rural Home Ownership Grants.

The rental market is dominated by Colonsay Estate which lets 72% of all housing for rent on the island. The only alternatives are 4 housing association houses and 2 council houses. The last re-let of a council house was in 1987 and only one re-let has occurred in the housing association houses since they were built in 1994.

The lack of alternatives mean that households have effectively two choices: to rent property from Colonsay Estate- which may be in poor condition and for a high rent; or to build a new house if they are able to afford a mortgage for the high cost of building on the island.

Housing Need

A total of 18 households were identified by the Housing Needs Survey as being in housing need. The majority of housing need on the island relates to the condition of the properties which households occupy. Although there are also households in insecure accommodation, elderly households in poorly located and adapted property, a household living in a caravan and households who are overcrowded.

To resolve the variety of housing needs on the island requires a number of different solutions:

  • housing conditions in Estate Properties need to be improved
  • the security of tenure of island households also needs to be addressed to provide households with strong footholds on the island
  • greater housing choice is needed to break down dependence on the Estate for housing
  • more social housing for rent will extend the stock available and increase alternative housing choices to the Estate.
  • more housing suitable for elderly and disabled people is required
  • a more flexible assessment of Rural Home Ownership Grant guidance is required to help households to purchase their current homes, houses for sale and to help facilitate greater benefits from self-building
  • shared ownership or the coming flexi-tenure may help make owner occupation available to those on limited or insecure incomes
  • a form of temporary housing is required to help incoming households to come to live on the island without the commitment to buying/building a house


Iomairt aig an Oir

Colonsay is an Initiative at the Edge area. The purpose of this initiative is to bring public sector agencies together with the community and the private sector to develop partnership approaches to resolving the issues that threaten the sustainability of the community.

On Colonsay, one of the main issues is housing and the solution to this issue will require co-operation and partnership between all the agencies that are partners in Iomairt aig an Oir with the local community and the Colonsay Estate. There is no one solution to the housing problems of Colonsay rather there are several, all interlinked, and requiring financial and time commitments from all of the partners.

 Recommendations for Action

4 new houses at Scalasaig built by a housing association with grant funding from Scottish Homes on land bought by Argyll & the Islands Enterprise. (Scottish Homes, Argyll & the Islands Enterprise, Lorn & the Isles Housing Association)

Up to 7 tenanted houses leased from Colonsay Estate by Argyll & Bute Council or purchased by Colonsay Community Development Company with tenant approval and improved with grant from Argyll & Bute Council.(Colonsay Community Development Company, Colonsay Estate, Argyll & Bute Council, HIE Community Land Unit)

4 Rural Home Ownership Grants provided to enable islanders to buy their current homes from Colonsay Estate and build new houses. (Scottish Homes, Colonsay Estate)

1 house bought by Colonsay Community Development Company to be let to incoming workers (Colonsay Community Development Company, Colonsay Estate)

Progress with the Housing Strategy

The recommendations for action were accepted by all the housing partners to the Initiative at the Edge; the community, Scottish Homes, Argyll & Bute Council and Argyll and the Isles Enterprise.

The first recommendation; 4 new houses built by West Highland Housing Assocviation is currently being developed.

The houses will be built on a site adjacent to the existing housing association houses which was bought by the Community Land Unit from Colonsay Estate. This site will also locate 2 workshop units to encourage craft and other business development on the island.

The new houses are being designed by John Wilson Associates from Oban and will incorporate several energy saving measures suggested by the local community at consultation meetings. These include solar panels, extra thick wall insulation and southerly aspects with large glass areas to encourage passive solar gain.

The houses are also designed to fit with island life and incorporate large porches for wet outdoor clothes and shoes and stoves in the kitchen to provide heat. The houses are also designed to be flexible in the size of households which can be accommodated.

The houses will be built with two bedrooms on the ground floor, in two houses the upper floor will be developed to incorporate two further bedrooms whilst in the remaining two the upper floor will be left unfinished but expandable to meet the needs of a larger household. In this way it hoped that the houses will meet a variety of housing needs on the island at present and in the future.

Leasing Scheme

The second recommendation that some Colonsay Estate houses are leased to Argyll & Bute Council is currently being progressed by the Council. An in principle agreement has been given to the scheme by both the Council and Colonsay Estate and a legal agreement is currently being drawn up by the Council legal department. It is hoped that this will be in operation by the end of 2001.

Rural Home Ownership Grants

Two households in housing need have decided to go down the route of building their own home with the help of Scottish Homes Rural Home Ownership Grants. One is now nearly complete whilst the other has had difficulty buying a site. The Rural Housing Service has been advising this family in their negotiations with the Church of Scotland over a piece of Glebe land.

Community House- Gateway House

This aspect of the strategy is taking longest to develop. However the community recently decided that the Colonsay Community Development Company should progress this development. It is planned to seek funding to build a new house which will be let on a short assured tenancy to new families who wish to come to Colonsay to make their home. It is likely that the house will be made available to local businesses which require housing for new employees.