The Scottish Government recognises that people are Scotland’s greatest asset. Our economic action plan set out a commitment to a come to Scotland campaign, and we are developing with our partners a package of measures to attract people to and retain people in Scotland, including in our rural areas. However, Scotland needs further levers to be able to action change. Those include having a tailored approach to migration that will attract and retain people with the skills that we need to ensure the future sustainability of our rural communities.
A community organisation on the isle of Harris recently raised with me its concerns about the sustainability of having more than 50 per cent of homes in certain fragile communities given over to holiday houses. There is consensus—rightly—that tourism is important to the island economy, but what assessment has the Scottish Government made of the issue? What measures can be taken to ensure that communities do not become unsustainable, depopulated or unaffordable for people to live in?
I completely understand the concerns that Alasdair Allan has raised. “Scottish Planning Policy” sets out that the planning system should
“encourage rural development that supports prosperous and sustainable communities and businesses”.
The Planning (Scotland) Bill was amended at stage 2 to include provision that a residential property’s change of use to short-term holiday letting would be a material change of use that would require planning permission, and a further amendment to that section of the bill has been lodged in advance of stage 3. The Scottish Government is considering the effect of the amendments and will respond in due course.
We are seeing a declining population in rural areas for a number of reasons. That is why I recently met the Minister for Europe, Migration and International Development, Ben Macpherson, to discuss the matter and to see what other measures we could take to try to sustain and build our populations in rural areas.
A number of issues have been raised with me continually in the visits that I have made in my role, including, particularly by young people, the issue of their ability to stay in rural areas. We need connectivity, infrastructure, jobs and housing. By looking at all those things in the round, we can hope to not only maintain populations in rural areas but attract people to live in those areas.