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Election 2021: Part one of our exclusive series on the Caithness, Sutherland and Ross candidates response to some of the key issues, starting today they say how they will tackle depopulation and housing

By Scott Maclennan

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From now until the election we will ask the candidates how they will tackle some of the key issues plaguing the Highlands. Today we begin with Harry Christian of the Scottish Libertarian Party. His party's platform contains five main planks. The first seeks to end the "draconian lockdowns," the second defends freedom of speech, the third is described as accepting democracy including both the IndyRef and Brexit, fourth the party is self-described as anti-corruption and anti-corporatist, and finally it wants to ease the burden of government.

The issue of housing and keeping Highlanders in the region has been a problem going back generations but it is now beginning to reach crisis point – nowhere is that more true than in the far north.

According to the National Records of Scotland, Caithness is forecast to lose more than nine per cent of its population this decade.

Neighbouring Sutherland will see its population decline by more than seven per cent while Easter Ross is expected to lose 4.4 per cent of its population.

A major problem contributing to that decline is young first-time buyers being priced out of the market.

Mr Christian was asked what he sees as the solution to the housing shortage that is driving many Highlanders away from their home towns and villages and sparking a steep decline in population.

He said: "The solution to any housing shortage is always the same – build more houses. Unfortunately, in the Highlands, and indeed in Scotland as a whole, both local and national politicians are more interested in restricting housing developments instead of encouraging them.

"For 'local' developments the average wait time for a building permit is twelve weeks and for major developments it takes on average almost a year; and that's only for the proposals that succeed in getting through the planning process.

"Politicians need to get out of the way. They need to start removing unhelpful planning restrictions and stand up to the NIMBY [Not In My Back Yard] tendencies of many of those who lodge objections.

"They can start by removing the need for people to get permission for change of use when wanting to convert an industrial or commercial property to residential use.

"They can change the rules so that the only objections that can be considered are from those who can demonstrate that they will suffer physical damage to their health or property if the application is allowed.

"They need to recognise that rising house prices are not a sign of a healthy economy but a sign that housing in short supply. They need to recognise that this shortage is caused by government getting in the way when it should be getting out of the way.

"The Scottish Libertarian Party's full housing policy is available on the party's official website. If elected, I along with the rest of my party, will support the removal of all restrictions that make house-building more difficult."

Click here tomorrow when Labour's Marion Donaldson tells us that part of the answer lays in local decision-making.

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