Scramble for Rural Houses (1949)

“The wanderlust of the Uigeach”, from the Stornoway Gazette, 30 December 1949.

Swedish timber houses allocated to West Uig are not to be built there. Owing to the depopulation of the district there is very little chance of finding tenants. When this news was given to the Lewis District Council by the chairman, Councillor John Maciver, there was a scramble by the other districts in the island to claim the houses. The houses had originally been allocated to West Uig in the hope that they would help to arrest depopulation, but it was not likely that they would ever find tenants for twenty houses in Uig, he said.

Rather than lose the twenty houses, he thought they should try to get them for some other district in rural Lewis. He recognised the congestion around Stornoway, with people coming in to find work in the mills, but he wanted ten of the houses for Shawbost, and he understood Councillor Donald Macleod wanted ten for Point. For the last four houses at Springfield, there were over 100 applications, but only nine of these had come from outside the burgh, although the houses were intended for Point, Back and the central ward of Stornoway.

“Where do you want these houses to go?” he asked.

“I think Councillor Duncan Maciver and I have the first say in that,” said Councillor Smith, Uig. “I think they should be erected near Stornoway, and priority should be given to the people of Uig when they’re finished, as the people of Uig had been chased out of Uig by the County Council and partly by the Lewis District Council. Today we haven’t got the young men and young women left there to occupy them. If they get married they have to go and live on the mainland.”

Councillor Smith went on to say the conditions under which they had to live were a disgrace to humanity, and he made a vigorous attack on the authorities for the neglect of the road.

“It is not my fault. I did my best to get you twenty houses in Uig. It was hoped it would arrest the depopulation, but there’s always a wanderlust in the Uigeach,” said the chairman.

Councillor Montgomery, Balallan, claimed the houses for Lochs. Balallan Grazings Committee, he said, had given a site for ten blocks, and only five had been erected. The Chairman suggested that Councillor Montgomery was wanting more than his fair share.

“Do I understand that these twenty houses have been erected in Uig, or are they still in timber form?” asked Councillor Murray.

They weren’t there at all, the Chairman replied, but sites had been resumed for them at Crowlista and Brenish. it was decided not to erected the houses meantime, but not to surrender the sites in the hope that at some future date, if there was a demand for houses in uig, they could erect some traditional ones.

“If there are any timber houses available I would suggest that ten be allocated to Point, because I am confident that they would be tenanted,” said Councillor Murray, calling attention to the fact that Point had been given no timber houses on the first allocation because the County Councillor for the district, at that time, had made no application. He was sure a site would be given for the houses in Point, and the tenants were waiting.

Councillor Duncan Maciver supported Councillor Smith’s proposal that the houses should be built round Stornoway, and priority given to Uig people. Councillor Kenneth Macdonald, Leurbost, supported Councillor Montgomery’s plea that they should be allocated to Lochs. The water supply and everything was already provided at Balallan. Councillor JM Macdonald, Bernera, said that the houses should go to Bernera, because that was in West Uig. He suggested that they might be erected on the mainland side of Earshader Sound for Bernera people. This was supported by Councillor Robert Macleod, Carloway. If any place in West Uig could do with four, five or six of these houses, they should have the first claim.

The Chairman did not approve of providing houses for Uig people resident in Stornoway. They might as well follow the Lewisman to Toronto or Govan as to the town of Stornoway. He wanted to see the houses erected at least seven or eight miles outside the burgh. Otherwise the burgh would come along some day with a scheme for extending the burgh boundaries and swallow them up.

Councillor Macmillan, Park, suggested that the allocation of the houses should bear some relation to the number of applications from the different districts. Councillor Finlay Smith said he understood that there were only two applicants for the houses being erected at Barvas, because it was rumoured that the rents were going to be very high.

The Chairman said his information about the number of applications in the Barvas area was quite different. The rents had been provisionally fixed at £35 plus rates, bit tjere was a possibility of obtaining a remote areas grant which would bring the rents down.

Councillor Angus Macdonald supported Councillor Murray’s plea that some of the houses should be allocated to Point.  What the Council had to consider was the rehousing of people living in unfit houses. By allocating some of them to Point they would relieve the congestion around the town.

“What we want is to arrest the depopulation of rural Lewis, not to encourage people to migrate to Stornoway,” replied the Chairman. Councillor Gillies said they had fifty applicants for these houses in Ness when they didn’t know the rents, but if they would be about £1 a week the houses would just be white elephants.

When Mr Whitaker, the Sanitary Inspector, was asked for his views, he appealed to the Council not to put the cart before the horse. Before coming to a decision on the disposal of these houses, they should wait until they got the applications in, and then they could see where the houses were most needed. On the information at present in his possession he would recommend, without hesitation, that they should be built round the burgh of Stornoway, where there were still hundreds of applicants. They must be sure they would get tenants for the houses before they built them.

On Councillor Angus Macdonald’s motion it was finally agreed to defer a decision meantime as suggested by Mr Whitaker.