Monday, 12 August 2013

Planning "sterilisers" dictating to the Highlands

From my Daily Record column

"White settler" was an insult once used to disparage those who had moved to the Highlands to make a new life.

The natives realised their mistake and you don't hear the phrase much these days.

The people who came to stay are now recognised as shaping and saving the communities they adopted as home and enrich many a glen and island.

But the New Highlanders been followed by another wealthier breed who do not accept the values of the place or engage with the communities they live in, even if only part-time basis.
They are recognised by planners, councillors and locals across the western seaboard with a new phrase - "white sterilisers".

The sterilisers have paid a few hundred thousand pounds for their slice of Highland paradise and feel that buys them the rights to the view across the loch as well.

These are the people who object to the windfarms, who object to the fishfarms, to more ferry services or any other development that might detract from the "visual amenity" at the end  of their "private road - no entry" track. 

In the case of one west coast village, Torridon, the sterilisers succeeded in stopping an active crofter build a home on her croft because it might ruin the landscape.

They are joined by the vested interests of landed class, lairds like Mark Pattison of Kinlochdamph, who thinks that the revival of the nearby Kishorn oil yard would be an environmental disaster and isn't necessary while the west Highlands have "full employment".

The view from Planet Landlord is reflected in powerful landowning charities like the John Muir Trust and the National Trust for Scotland.

Combine that with the bird-loving RSPB and you have a toxic lobby that actively campaigns against economic development while shielding behind the argument that the "unspoilt" landscape (all of it shaped by man at some stage) provides greater wealth.

Well, as Victor, the Russian fisherman in Local Hero, quipped thirty years ago: "You can't eat the scenery".

Backing up the sterilisers' alliance are environmental designations handed out like parking tickets by Scottish government Ministers, who then wring their hands and blame Europe.

The result could be a Highland landscape and seaboard preserved in aspic but empty of people and the jobs that keep them there.

Environmental sterilisation is cumulative process over years and is now cleansing planning decisions. As the Torridon case shows planning power urgently needs to be rebalanced towards the people who want to be able to live - and work - in rural Scotland.  

The Scottish Crofting Federation, the crofters' union, said last week of the decision by Highland Council to reject that croft house in Torridon: "It is particularly alarming that this decision appears to have been heavily influenced by the objections submitted by holiday home owners in the area, people who don't themselves stay and work in the community yet feel they have the right to dictate on where a crofter can and cannot live."

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