A Wester Ross community council is probing whether the Highlands could adopt a Cornish model of planning policy which aims to curb the number of holiday homes.
More than 50 per cent of houses in the Coigach peninsula are second or holiday homes and the area is struggling to retain young people because of a lack of suitable accommodation.
Now Coigach Community Council is spearheading a move to see if a planning regulation could be introduced to protect the local housing stock from ending up as holiday homes.
Coigach Community Council is also writing to other community councils in the West Highlands to garner support for such a scheme.
Although at opposite extremes of the map, Cornwall and the Highlands suffer from similar problems as regards rural housing. Both are highly popular tourist destinations with low housing stock and when properties do come on the market they command big money as holiday lets or second homes, pricing locals out of the market.
In some pressurised parts of Cornwall, anyone buying a house which has previously been fully occupied and wants to use it as a holiday or second home, has to apply for change of use permission to the planning authority.
Planners will then look at what percentage of holiday homes there are in the area and, if it is deemed to be over a certain threshold, the application can be refused.
Lesley Muir, of Coigach Community Council, said: “Cornwall has communities just like ours, very beautiful but at the prey for people who want second homes and which, for them, are very affordable.
“Now when a property come on the market in Coigach, buyers are not even coming up to look at it. They are seeing it advertised online and snapping them up.
“There was a modest cottage in this area which attracted 20 offers – and it’s not going to be young local people who are buying them. It puts huge pressure on a community.
“Two lots of local people have left recently because they can’t find housing and there are now more 90-year-olds in the village than under-fives.
“What we want to say as a community is that solutions are being sought in other places such as in Cornwall. We understand that what happens in Cornwall might not suit here, but we need to do something.”
Mrs Muir stressed that many holiday homes in the area belonged to local people which provided an income and allowed them to stay in the village. Nobody was against that.
But she said: “It’s the second homes which lie empty for much of the year. While the owners are here, they do contribute to the local economy but if the lights are out all winter it’s not good. I have no neighbours for two houses on either side of me. That’s just what happens.”
Coigach Community Council has written to Highland Council to inquire if a scheme similar to that which operates in Cornwall could be put in place in Highland. It has also contacted local MP Ian Blackford and local MSP Maree Todd to seek their support.
Article by JACKIE MACKENZIE
There is more coverage on this issue in the latest edition of the West Highland Free Press, available now in shops or online at whfp.com