We recognise the housing pressures that face a growing Highlands and are doing a great deal to provide affordable housing. Just last week, I announced that next year we will provide £36.5 million for new housing supply in the Highlands. That is a six-fold increase in 10 years, and will enable around 500 new affordable homes to be started in the Highlands and the successful homestake shared equity scheme to be extended.
Is the minister aware of the successful studies that are being carried out on the Ormlie housing estate in Thurso into the use of microrenewables to cut carbon emissions and to provide more affordable energy to the people who live there? Are there plans for the new developments that she has mentioned—and any future developments—to incorporate microrenewables?
Tackling climate change and sustainability must be at the centre of everything that we do. After all, we are building the houses and communities of the future now, so we must ensure that they are sustainable.
I am interesting in finding out more about what is happening in Thurso. Of course, other work is being carried out in the Highlands. For example, Communities Scotland will be supporting a partnership between the Highlands and Islands community energy company and seven housing associations to develop small-scale wind farms. That initiative, which will pilot a new method of creating community-owned assets, will help to reduce the carbon footprint.
Moreover, our current review of planning guidance on renewable energy will consider how the planning system can support moves towards low and zero-carbon development. A lot of things are going on, and the future looks exciting.
Does the minister agree that affordable housing requires significant additional investment? Does she support the introduction of a £100 million a year trust that, by offering grants to prospective homeowners, would significantly help first-time buyers throughout Scotland—and, indeed, in the Highlands and Islands—to get on to the property ladder?
The member will be aware of the homestake shared equity scheme, which the Executive introduced in order to help first-time buyers to get on to the property ladder. For example, on a recent visit to Inverness, I met Janet MacMillan, a 25-year-old nurse, who, through homestake, has been able to buy a house for the first time. Although I am sure that the Conservatives feel that their proposal represents the best way forward, we feel that the shared equity model gives best value for money by, for example, giving the potential for funding to come back to housing associations when houses are sold.