Getting the priorities right for Arran

People, community groups, businesses, the Arran Locality Partnership and anyone with an interest in Arran have been contributing their views on how the pandemic may have changed priorities for island life and what that might mean for the recovery, renewal and sustainability of our island communities. An online event was arranged by North Ayrshire Council to give people the opportunity to hear the key findings from the wide range of conversations and survey responses received. The following report is by Sally Campbell.

Islands Engagement 
Meeting 28 September 2021

The Islands Recovery and Renewal pilot project is co-funded by North Ayrshire Council, Scottish Government and Highlands & Islands Enterprise

This meeting was for feedback on the consultation exercise run by Colin Duff of SKS Scotland, chaired by Councillor Alex Gallagher (Ward 08, North Coast and Cumbraes). In attendance was also Sarah Baird (Senior Office, Islands) and about 25 residents. Councillor Gallagher introduced the meeting saying they were keen to receive as much feedback as they could from the islanders. The aim to try and maximise potential for the islands in North Ayrshire Council tied in with local and National policies.

The survey results:
549 responses to the survey
22 attended an on-line meeting
31 organisations invited to contribute. As one might expect, the priorities different between some groups with some with emphasis on social isolation, transport and affordable housing, whilst some were much more with an economic focus.
9 individuals made unsolicited contact through the website

There was some variation and opposing views in perceptions.
It was clear that the issues on Arran had not changed but have been amplified by COVID.

A discussion followed on the 10 themes in the feedback:
Mobility, tourism, affordable housing, labour market, community cohesion, health and social care, island brand, transport, tension between interest groups and finally resilience and fragility.

One of the tensions is that Arran is now over-touristed, with impact on the quality of life and antisocial behaviour. This tied in with the interrelationship between fragility and resilience. The issue of second homes/holiday lets means private sector houses for long term lets are in short supply and rents have risen. The undersupply of houses for young working families, could cause services to be at risk. With the age profile on Arran, and more elderly people, there is demand for care services and yet fewer carers. The undersupply of houses for rent to staff results in fewer staff and/or facilities not fully opened. The absence/reduced tradespeople on Arran results in them coming from off the island at extra cost. The result is a higher cost of living compared with the income on the mainland. In addition, the ferry problems can result in lack of goods.

From the 749 narrative responses affordable housing and ferries stood out, as by far the most urgent, but linked to others as interdependent with such areas as economic diversification, the labour market, the population age profile and transport reliability.

Colin encouraged the group to think of Priorities of Action in the times ahead following on from the survey.
• Areas of Concern:
• Issues:
• Aspiration:
• Targets:
• Actions

Opened up to questions and comments. Concern was expressed about lack of interlinking services. There was a demand that these problems had been on Arran for many years and it needs to be solved and not continue to talk about it. Sarah Baird replied that the Islands Act has led to a strategic three-year Islands Plan. In this access to services should be equal to those on the mainland.

One discussion which struck a chord with me was that the ”Silence of the Covid Period” has given time for people to review their thoughts. This summer with its different focus, more people are willing to express a view, voice opinions. Colin Duff added that there had been opportunities for development of governance and some felt NAC was distant and they are not fully able to participate with island governance. Clearly a frustration.

A discussion on the labour market showed the challenge of staff retention, training and education. Young people living at the South End find it difficult to work in the evenings unless parents are their transport. There is concern expressed too that some employees are living in unsuitable accommodation, such as caravans etc. Education and work/jobs must work together.

Another issue was around child care, and an early years’ centre. There must be adequate summer holiday care. Free child care is promised by the government, so how will this be delivered?

There needs a much faster broadband/internet service, with fibre broadband not just to the telephone exchanges (the green boxes in each village) but out along village roads; at present these are still on copper wire, so broadband progressively poorer if more than half a mile from the green box. Arran can only attract digital businesses if broadband is seriously improved.

Sarah Baird wrapped up the meeting and felt encouraged by the participation. The interdependency, the mutual sharing of information is helpful, and will be refreshed over time. Digital inclusion and early years are clearly important. Let us see how we will measure success. A draft plan will be produced, with HIE, Scottish Government, North Ayrshire Council and partners by late 2022. There will be a yearly reflection of the new island plan.

The slides of the findings of the consultation will be found on North Ayrshire Council website, and possibly the library, in the near future under Islands Engagement 2021.

Sally Campbell
September 2021

Featured image credit: Arran Recovery Group