The increases are one of a number of measures announced by rural development minister Ross Finnie during a visit yesterday to Mr and Mrs MacLellan's croft at Lochmaddy, North Uist. Mr and Mrs MacLellan received funding from the grant scheme to build a new croft house.
Other improvements include a significant increase in grant for house restoration and renewal and targeting to ensure that the greatest levels of support go to the most remote communities.
The minister also announced that CBGLS was to be renamed the Croft House Grant Scheme from January 1, 2005.
Mr Finnie said:
'The Executive is committed to supporting our crofting communities. The package of changes being announced today have been the subject of consultation with all parties with an interest in crofting matters.
'By converting the support offered from a grant and loan scheme to a direct grant we have been able to increase substantially the support available. Funding will also be directed to the more remote areas to ensure that the money spent really makes a difference to these communities.
'To ensure maximum local impact the new grant has a higher emphasis on improvement and refurbishment, offering the benefits of retaining traditional housing, reducing abandonment of poor housing and providing local work.
'Collectively, these changes will modernise housing support and help to ensure that our crofting communities continue to thrive for generations to come.'
John Allan MacLellan said:
'CBGLS has been of considerable assistance to us in building our new home. Without it we would not have been in a position to build. The costs of building on the islands are much greater than the mainland and there is need for a higher level of assistance to build. This helps young crofters such as ourselves stay on the islands.'
CBGLS provided support for new build and the improvement and extension of existing houses. Only crofters and cottars with a genuine housing need are eligible. Over the last 10 years, more than 1000 new houses have been built and just under 1000 improved. Average annual expenditure over that period has been£3.2m.
A consultation on proposals to modernise the support offered to crofters and to ensure that public money was being spent effectively was launched in October 2003. The report summarising the responses to that consultation is now available on the SEERAD website.
The main changes in the Croft House Grant Scheme (CHGS)are:
The scheme will channel all the funding into direct grants instead of a mix of grants and loans as at present. Existing loans will not be affected.
The new scheme will be geographically targeted. Grant levels will be determined by priority areas with the highest grant maxima available in the more remote and fragile communities. The priority areas are yet to be determined.
The new grant rates for a new house will be:
Geographic Priority Area :
The new Rebuilding and Improvement Grant providing assistance levels similar to those for new housing and with similar geographic targeting. The rates for these grants will be:
Geographic Priority Area :
High - 40 per cent of costs up to a maximum grant of£22,000
Standard - 30 per cent of costs up to a maximum grant of£17,000
Low - 20 per cent of costs up to a maximum grant of£11,500
Rebuilding and Improvement Grants would be subject to a minimum project cost threshold of£10,000
The current Water and Road Services grant will be incorporated into the new Croft house grant Scheme from 1 January 2005 and no applications for that element of the existing scheme will be accepted after 31 December 2004.
The new scheme will be open to applications on 1 January 2005. CBGLS will close to applications on 31 December 2004.
A Geographic Targeting Working Group is to be set up to define the three priority areas. The group will consider the fragility of the communities, remoteness, building costs and planning factors. The priority zones will aim to achieve 50% of applications at the standard rate and 25% in each of the high and low priority zones. The priority zones will be subject to regular review. There will be a further announcement in due course about these priority areas when they have been determined.
The new location for the administration of the scheme has not yet been settled as there have been a number of bids, and careful consideration is necessary to take account of all the relevant factors to ensure the greatest impact in an area which can sustain these jobs. An announcement later this year is likely.
Crofters who have an approval letter for the existing scheme will have a choice of continuing with that scheme or re-applying for the new scheme when it opens. They should contact the Department to discuss their applications. Applicants who have started work by 1 January 2005 on the basis of an existing approval will not be eligible to re-apply for the new scheme.
Loans already made under the existing scheme will not be affected by the changes.