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Councillor calls for action as "alarming" population slump is forecast

By Caroline McMorran

An infographic showing clearly population projections. Credit - Highland Council
An infographic showing clearly population projections. Credit - Highland Council

Sutherland’s already fragile population figures are set to plunge still further over the next few years, it is feared.

New projections reveal the number of people living in the county is expected to fall by a worrying 11.9 per cent over the next two decades.

In contrast population figures for urban areas such as Inverness are booming

East Sutherland and Edderton ward councillor Jim McGillivray, Embo, has described the situation as “increasingly alarming” and called for that significant action to be taken.

He wants to see Highland Council come up with a “substantive plan” to stop the drain of people from economically fragile areas to the urban centres.

Cllr McGillivray is not the only one to express alarm – a north west Sutherland sheep stock club last month unveiled plans for a development it hoped would help stem the tide of depopulation and unemployment.

Keoldale Sheep stock club said the situation in its area was “dire” and that “time was of the essence” if the downwards trend was to be reversed.

North councillors were given information on population projections at a Highland Council meeting in its Glenurquhart Road headquarters last month

The population of the Highland Council area is estimated for the end of June each year by National Records Scotland.

According to papers put before councillors, Sutherland’s population in 2016 stood at 13,659.

But this is set to steadily drop with the population figure in 2041 projected to be 12,042 representing a 11.9 per cent decrease.

The demographic of the area is also set to change with an increasing number of people aged 75 and over.

The downward trend is echoed in other remote and rural areas with a 21.1 per cent drop projected for Caithness over the same period and a 13.8 per cent slump in East Ross. Lochaber and Badenoch and Strathspey and Strathspey are all expected to be adversely affected.

But it is anticipated that Inverness will enjoy a 11.2 per cent increase in population over the next 20 years. Other areas to grow are expected to be Mid Ross and the Nairn area.

Cllr McGillivray said Highland Council seemed simply to be accepting the situation rather than attempting to do anything about it.

He said: “The steady depopulation of Scotland’s rural areas seems to be an accepted fact in the corridors of power.

“I certainly believe the present Highland Council administration should formally acknowledge the situation and come forward with a substantive plan of action.

“That should at least make some attempt at redressing the ongoing flow of people from economically fragile rural areas to the urban centres.”

Cllr McGillivray added: “Inverness can only grow so far and absorb so much of the council budgets.

“There are vague statements of intent in the various policy documents, but nothing more substantive than that as far as I can see.”

Keoldale Sheep stock club has applied for planning consents for an ambitious new development on its ground.

The club hopes the planned visitor centre, brewery, distillery, café and restaurant, to be sited close to the NC500 tourism route, will create up to 18 full, part and seasonal jobs.

A design statement lodged with Highland Council’s planning department reads: “The present population stands at less than 400 and is heavily skewed towards the older age brackets.

“The school roll, which stood at between 35 and 40 for many years, is now severely in decline and it is anticipated that without a significant retention of young people, the roll will drop to as low as four by 20120.

“There is a lack of opportunities for the younger generation who have to seek a living elsewhere and few return.

“The most urgent need, therefore, is to create employment for the young so that they can continue to live in their native area, raise families and continue the life of the village.”

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