Scotland houses – Mull, Inveraray, Glencoe : Hotel veteran Paddy Crerar urges fix for rural housing ‘crisis’

Business Editor

A VETERAN hotelier has urged action to fix a “crisis on affordable housing” in remote and rural areas in Scotland such as those in which some of his group’s properties are located.

Paddy Crerar, chairman and founder of Crerar Hotels, believes that local authorities must prioritise making it easier to secure planning permission for urgently needed housing, declaring that they are in his mind “the largest barrier”.

He emphasised “no one wants reckless, unfettered planning policies that allow anyone to build anything anywhere”. He voiced dismay over some of the developments allowed in Ireland.

However, citing his experience of housing provision across Scotland from his long career in hotels, he said the length of time it took for developers in remote and rural areas to secure planning permission for “even non-controversial construction projects” and the hoops they had to go through were “incredible”.

He declared: “This is about allowing developers to compensate for a desperate shortage of housing for workers.”

Mr Crerar said: “I genuinely believe the Scottish Government…really understand that we are certainly facing, in remote and rural areas, a crisis on affordable housing.”

He highlighted his view it was a supply issue, observing that people working in his sector were paid much more than five years ago.

Mr Crerar said the starting salary for a spa therapist was now about £30,000, up from between £16,000 and £17,000 five years ago, noting consumer price inflation over this period had been relatively low until the surge in recent months. He took the example of a person in such a job having a partner employed on the food and beverage side of the hotels business, as a waiter or waitress, earning £20,000 to £24,000 for working normal hours.

Highlighting the lack of affordable houses to rent or buy, Mr Crerar said: “That is a joint income of £50,000-plus yet they can’t get anywhere. They can’t afford to live in the areas they work in. There are simply not rental properties available. To get on the housing ladder, the number of available entry-level houses in places where we have hotels is really limited.”

He noted the salary for a head chef had risen from between £30,000 and £35,000 five years ago to £60,000, before any incentives.

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Mr Crerar said: “This isn’t about the individuals having lack of funds [but] actually [the] lack of supply.”

He flagged Inveraray, Mull and Glencoe, where three of his group’s seven properties are located, as the areas in which it was a major problem for staff to find accommodation. The Crerar portfolio includes the Loch Fyne Hotel & Spa in Inveraray, Isle of Mull Hotel & Spa, and Glencoe Inn.

Mr Crerar noted the group had, over a period of about 24 months before the pandemic, bought seven houses to rent to staff at affordable rates, and observed this had been crucial to the operation, for example on Mull.

He emphasised he was a “free-market person” but hammered home his belief that there should be a “bit more government intervention” when it came to the “Airbnb model”, with people having become “second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth home owners”.

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On how to solve the housing crisis he sees, Mr Crerar said: “The first bit that needs fixed is absolutely fixable. That is about local authorities prioritising planning as critical. [Without that], the businesses in their region will not be able to deliver on turnover, they will not be able to employ people.

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“That is something local authorities need to be addressing. They may be doing that – I have not seen any evidence to give me any encouragement on it.”

Mr Crerar flagged the “slow train crash” of Brexit in terms of its huge impact in reducing availability of staff for the hospitality sector, noting his company “absolutely could see the writing on the wall” on this front, and declared workers from European Union countries had been “anything but cheap labour”.

He added: “Unless the housing issue is addressed, how can we encourage people to move to Scotland if they can’t afford…anywhere to live?”

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