Buzzcocks drummer John Maher is leading the charge for a £1million community buyout of part of the remote Outer Hebrides where he lives.
This punk rock singer, 62 years old, is worried about second-home owners and the shortage of housing in Harris Bays.
Maher, who moved from Manchester to this area in 2002, said it was better for the community than an “absentee landlord” based out of Surrey.
The estate is owned by the Hitchcock family who bought it in 1925 for £5,000 after the death of industrialist Lord Leverhulme, who founded what is now Unilever.
Maher said the family – led by Rob Hitchcock, 70, from Cobham – were open to be being bought out by the community with the likely price being just over £1million.
John Maher (62), Buzzcocks drummer, lives in Scotland’s Bays of Harris, Outer Hebrides.
Maher, pictured in Manchester, May 2012 is concerned about second-home owners.
Majority of the funding would come from Scotland’s Land Fund (taxpayer-funded), which assists communities in becoming sustainable through the ownership and management of their land.
Maher, 62, said: ‘If you asked me if I would be helping lead a community buyout when I was a young man drumming in Buzzcocks – well, you couldn’t make it up.
Following the death in 1925 of Lord Leverhulme, who was the founder of Unilever, the Hitchcocks purchased the estate.
“I swear blindly that I wouldn’t join any committees when I arrived here in the past 20 years. However, I am here now and truly believe in community ownership.
“Having an absentee landlord over us is morally unsound, in my view.”
Maher stated that a “really thorough feasibility report” had been prepared to examine the possibility of a buyout by the community.
According to this report, it’s ‘both economically viable and holds significant potential for securing future community members through the careful management and development the estate.
A series of drop-in meetings about the plans are now being held at community halls in Leverburgh and Berneray.
This study’s results will help to determine the best ways of regenerating the area of 30,000 acres that has been severely depopulated.
With 700 people, The Bays of Harris is now experiencing an ageing population and a decrease in young residents.
Rodel Church, South of Leverburgh at the Isle of Harris in Outer Hebrides
This area can be divided into three distinct tracts, separated by sea and land in the middle.
It runs towards Direcleit, South Harris’ main settlement, and Leverburgh is where you can catch the ferry to Uist.
Northon has a separate land parcel that is located between the two estates.
You can also find the Isle of Berneray off North Uist and the uninhabited Hermetray Islands across the Sound of Harris.
The buyout of Harris would bring the majority of Harris into community ownership. Three other communities, Rodel land, Leverburgh land and Kyles Leverburgh, would remain private.
According to the feasibility study, 39% of the estate’s population is over 60 years old. This compares with 23.2 % in Scotland. The figure for Berneray is 42.8 percent.
Prince Charles, Princess Diana, and Berneray are part of the Bays of Harris in July 1985
According to the report, “Depopulation and demographics are our greatest challenges.” With concern about local births, the shortage of young people became a pressing issue.
The demographic challenge was the root cause of the housing crisis. The lack of affordable housing was a key issue at each meeting, especially among young people who couldn’t afford to buy on a market. This is because there was a high demand for holiday houses.
It also found that the estate has a ‘diverse range of income streams’ including telecoms masts, fish farm leases, wayleave payments, minerals, sporting and croft rents, bringing in more than £80,000 a year and more than £100,000 in years where land sales occur.
According to the report, income from community ownership could be used for part-time administrative and development management positions as well as investment in community or crofting projects.
Maher was born in Manchester and became interested in drag racing during the 1980s, when he started a company building performance engines.
West Beach on Berneray which is within the Bays of Harris area involved in the discussions
In 2002, John Maher Racing moved from Manchester to Harris. He is also known for photographing abandoned houses.
Since his visions of rural properties caught the eye of chief housing officers nine years ago, 160 properties have been brought to life.
After Mr Maher’s photo exhibition in Stornoway, 2013, it was first hoped that up to 1,000 homes on abandoned islands could be renovated.
In 2016, he was even invited as a speaker to the Shelter empty Housing conference in Edinburgh.
Maher said that he accepts now that not all of these homes can be rebuilt.
From left: Buzzcocks Members John Maher and Steve Diggle as well Pete Shelley, Garth Smith and Garth Smith. 1977
A majority of those that were made liveable are older, neglected properties. Some will become Airbnbs or short term rentals.
“Some old croft homes have disappeared, and some are impossible to restore. They are constructed on bogs or by streams. Maher stated that restoration would be impossible due to today’s building regulations.
“But, there are many things that could be. This is a great thing. Although it wasn’t in my head when I took these pictures, it felt like it had lit a fire under me.
“Ultimately, my participation in any way whatsoever, no matter how small, helps in the restoration and re-naming of vacant and abandoned houses, is something I am totally open to.
Many of these properties were abandoned after their owners moved to the mainland or died.