- There are more holiday homes than there are people to clean them
A community group in Coigach – where there are now more people over 70 than schoolchildren – has highlighted the desperate need for new housing.
The Coigach Community Development Company says a lack of affordable homes is starving the peninsula of its lifeblood of young families and key workers.
And the group is warning that the crisis needs to be tackled urgently if the Wester Ross community is to be sustainable long term.
Coigach Community Development Company carried out a Housing Needs Survey along with the Highland Small Communities Housing Trust to assess the scale of the problem.
Around half of all the houses in Coigach are occupied for only a few months of the year, either as second homes or holiday lets.
In common with most Highland communities, when houses do come on the market they are prohibitively expensive for local people. The last council houses to be built in the area was in 1975.
Julia Campbell, a project officer with CCDC, said: “We knew there was a huge gap in housing provision in Coigach but the survey has quantified it.
“The problems are an ageing demographic, expensive houses and a lack of access to land.
“There are many young people who live in the area, or would live here, and if we had more housing they would stay.
“The school roll has more or less halved in the last 10 years to around 13 and there are only a smattering of under-fives in Coigach. There are more people over the age of 70 than there are under 12.
“There’s no shortage of work but companies are struggling to get folk because of the lack of accommodation.”
Ms Campbell said the local fish farm was expanding and many jobs had been created on the nearby island of Tanera which is being redeveloped as a holiday retreat. Coigach has also seen a huge influx of tourists recently.
But she added: “The fact is, there are more holiday homes than there are people to clean them.”
Tim Hamlet, who moved to Coigach with his wife and two young children, runs Hamlet Mountaineering. The family are in rented accommodation but want to stay in the area.
Mr Hamlet said: “We need more young families to live here and to boost the school, and for that we need housing.”
CCDC, which is run by a board of nine volunteer directors, has drawn up a full Housing options appraisal and is now considering the most promising options for securing land for homes.
Ms Campbell said two possibilities had emerged, one was the site of the former smokehouse which is owned by CCDC and the other was the offer of a croft locally.
She said: “The CCDC can’t be a crofter, so we have to investigate if we could get it decrofted and if it’s suitable for housing because there is an access issue.
“You look around the peninsula and there’s miles of emptiness yet trying to find land for housing is hugely difficult. You have to identify a site that is big enough to make a housing development viable and every site also seems to have a complication attached to it.”
Ms Campbell said many young people stayed with their parents but longed to live independently, while others rented holiday lets which they had to vacate in the spring for tourists.
“When they’re faced with that situation young people just leave to get a flat in Inverness and that’s a loss to the community,” she said. “When there are only 270 of us, everybody counts. This is an urgent problem and we need people to live here now so that there’s continuity for the future.”
CCDC is in discussions with the HSCHT over the feasibility of potential sites and the costs involved.
Meanwhile it is keen to hear views on housing, either from local people or those trying to move to Coigach, and also from anyone who can offer land locally. It can be contacted by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org
Article by Jackie MacKenzie