Demand for holiday homes drives locals out of idyllic village

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The Independent Online

Highland cattle wander the streets and the nearest supermarket is more than five miles away and yet a former council house has been sold for about £310,000 - £115,000 above the asking price.

The three-bedroom station master's house at Plockton in Wester Ross was put on the market for offers above £195,000 only a few weeks ago.

Charlie MacRae, the local community council chairman, said: "The village is just dumfounded. The last house in Plockton was sold for £220,000 and there was a council house sold for £126,000 recently.

"The situation is becoming horrendous. It's the worst possible thing that could happen to the village. There have been no council or housing association homes built in the last 10 years so the young people in the village have no chance of being able to find a home.

"For the local youngsters a price of £310,000 is an astronomical figure to pay."

Station House, which is 73 miles from Inverness, was previously bought as a holiday cottage about six years ago for less than £100,000 by an Aberdonian businessman. Since then, it has been generating an annual income of £10,000 a year as a holiday let.

Despite its commanding elevated view of Plockton, the setting for the fictional village in the popular BBC series Hamish MacBeth, the cottage is not unique in attracting the kind of prices that only outsiders can afford.

Plockton is set on the east side of a great headland sticking out into Loch Carron and has been described as one of the most beautiful villages in Britain. But, from a population high of 537 in 1841 the village where residents never feel the need to lock their front doors now has fewer than 300 inhabitants. The primary school roll, which was at 80 ten years ago, is down to 40 children.

"About 51 out of 150 houses are now holiday homes," Mr MacRae said. "When the Government allowed people to buy their council houses we thought it was a brilliant idea but now we are not so sure, as the houses are being bought by incomers. A council house, which was bought by the occupants for just £49,000, was sold for £126,000 earlier this year.

"In a place like Plockton where the demands for holiday homes is so big, the right-to-buy council homes is maybe not such a good idea after all.

"A survey by the rural housing association found that locally there were at least 22 people waiting for a house in Plockton and some people have had to live in caravans in and around the area while waiting for a house to come up they can afford."

In the past year property prices in the Highlands and Islands have risen by 14 per cent, with the typical house now fetching £74,700, while the number of local people registered as "without permanent accommodation" has continued to grow. There are believed to be at least 8,000 people on the waiting list for council houses in the area - a figure that has more than doubled in the past 10 years.

A recent study for the Highland Council, which provides about 200 new homes a year, revealed that a minimum of 5,000 affordable houses needed to be built over the next five years if the local authority was to keep pace with demand.

Garry Coutts, Highland councillor for Beauly and Strathglass, said: "This is a problem we have been aware of for a long time and it's getting worse. It is blighting the lives of people who cannot stay in the communities they were brought up in. We are not even standing still, we are going backwards."

Mr Coutts said the problem was that in parts of the Highlands the population was growing, while in Scotland as a whole the population was in decline. He said the council needed additional cash to be made available from the Scottish Executive for rural housing.

"Although £10m extra has already been allocated we need that amount to be at least doubled if we are to raise our game and build more than 200 houses a year," the councillor said.

Later this week a meeting is expected to be held in Plockton between local crofters and Lochalsh and Skye Housing Association to try to find land for more affordable housing in the village.

Iain McIvor, spokesman for the Housing Association, said: "Young people in the area trying to get on the property ladder are totally stuffed.People are selling their houses down south and reaping the harvest of the property boom when they come up here and have plenty of money to offer for the house they fancy."