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Orkney & Islands – An area-based study of a diverse rural area

At a time when the Scottish Government is reporting that a falling population is posing a threat to many of Scotland’s island communities, the population of Orkney is growing at a slow but steady pace. Housing delivery is focused in Kirkwall and the surrounding areas of the mainland where there is a higher proportion of employment. Rural settlement, particularly the smaller islands, is affected by challenging topography and transport links.


The challenges of housing delivery in Orkney are not necessarily unique compared to other rural areas but can be magnified by the island setting. Build costs are higher, and viability is a significant challenge for developments outside Kirkwall. Communities are small, with a limited resource to help them. Self-build plots have been key to delivering housing in the countryside throughout Orkney. But in some cases, planning policies have seemed inflexible and restrictive, adding costs, and causing frustration with the process.

The local community on the small island of Shapinsay approached the Council about the development of two homes on a site allocated in the Local Housing Plan for up to eight homes. Despite a housing need, a willing seller and a suitable site, the planning conditions required footpath, road and verge standards suitable for the future (when eight units could be delivered).

Benefits and Lessons Learned

The key issue in this case study is viability and the impact that minor changes can have on whether a project is delivered, and whether more pragmatic approach is possible on planning policy.

Find Out More

More detail about the challenges and positive outcomes from this project are included in more detail in the report 'The Role of Land in Enabling New Housing Supply in Rural Scotland.'

Kirkwall, Orkney