End of the 'Good Life' after star falls out with neighbours in remote Highlands

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The Independent Online

It may be almost 600 miles from her sitcom home in Surbiton but Britain's best-known snooty neighbour and her husband have managed to upset residents in the Highland village of Avoch.

Penelope Keith, the actress famous for her portrayal of the fussy social-climbing housewife Margo Leadbetter in the 1970s TV comedy The Good Life, has found herself in the middle of a planning row which has divided the tiny fishing port near Inverness. Ms Keith and her husband, Rodney Timson, wish to build an upmarket restaurant in the village. Many locals, fearful of an influx of tourists, are mounting a stout resistance to match any Seventies spat between the Leadbetters and their next-door neighbours, the Goods.

The couple have had a holiday home in the area for several years and have become familiar faces in and around the village, which overlooks Avoch Bay and the Moray Firth. Recently, through a Guildford-based company called Pencon Productions belonging to Mr Timson, they purchased a derelict building plot overlooking the harbour.

Initially Miss Keith and her husband were congratulated by locals for cleaning up the former filling station site just a couple of miles from their Highland hideaway in Fortrose. However, the mood changed when it became clear that they wanted to apply for consent to build a restaurant with a flat above it.

Fears that the new business venture would cause traffic problems in the village, which is already short of parking spaces, and disrupt drainage and other services have prompted a number of the 500 residents to sign a petition against the plans. "There is nobody in this area that is happy with this - no one at all," said Charlie Gillespie, owner of the post office and shop next door to the site.

Mr Gillespie claims the ground is contaminated from fuel tanks installed there during the war for fishing boats and that clearing the site properly could undermine the road and adjoining buildings.

"The village has a restaurant and there is already a café which doesn't open very much because there isn't enough custom to make it pay," said Mr Gillespie. "I heard they want to make it into a high-class restaurant and I don't really know where the clientele would come from for that unless they are trying to attract people from Inverness."

But Ms Keith does have some supporters. "There are mixed views within the village but most of the feedback has been quite positive," said Glenda Boyle, secretary of Avoch Community Council. "This particular site is close to the harbour which is very picturesque and has great views.

"A lot of people think it would be ideal for a café or something to serve tourists who come here in the summer to take boat tours into the Moray Firth to see the dolphins. It could be good for other businesses, including Mr Gillespie's shop".