Sunday, 21 July 2019

New-builds on Skye

Another 'plot for sale' sign has just gone up in Roag. Roag is where our Summer Cottage stands. Ten years ago, there were around 18 houses in Roag. There are 29 now.

At the height of summer, with the roadside grasses waving in a gentle warm breeze and a crystal blue sea sparkling in the midday sun, it really isn't difficult to understand why people fall in love with Skye. There can be few who would question that Skye is a sensationally beautiful place.

No surprise then, when some visiting people think how nice it would be to have a house here. Well, I'm just about OK with that, too. I'll assume these people have thought about all the many pitfalls, like winter, for example... and how Skye is a very long way away from everywhere...

But, not put off at all, these people look for a house. They are not going to live in it of course - just come and stay in it from time to time. They don't like the houses that are already here. They are all far too pokey and have funny sloping ceilings and even open fireplaces. Oh that won't do at all. 'There are dozens of building plots for sale - we'll have to have one built'.

I now move into history-lesson mode...

Skye residents in the 1800s lived in crofting communities. These communities were known as townships, and are not at all like the nucleated villages found in England. A Skye township would typically consist of a dozen or more crofts. Each croft was an area of land, maybe as little as a couple of acres, to as large as maybe twenty acres. The resident of the croft (the crofter) would build their home (croft cottage) on their land, and they would use the land to grow crops and keep a cow or a few sheep to keep the family fed. This results in original croft cottages usually being quite a long way apart from each other, and a crofting township can stretch a mile or more along the township road.

Time moves on.

Crofting on Skye still happens today, and the Crofting Commission proudly upholds many time-honoured practices regarding land use. However - though sometimes a legal nightmare, croft land can be de-crofted. This means a crofter can sell off a building-plot-size piece of his land, and the Highland Council - keen to uphold the Scottish Government's desire to 'repopulate the Highlands', seem all too willing to grant planning permission for almost anything to be built almost anywhere, gradually filling-in the large gaps between original cottages with new builds.

This is Breakish, in South Skye, photographed when I had a helicopter trip over Skye in 2011.
Here, each croft is a strip of land which would have gone right to the shore.
Notice that almost every croft has at least two houses on it now.
Returning to our 'people'...

They buy their 'ideal' building plot with sea view.... 'It was so cheap'...  not noticing that it is six miles down a single-track road, has smelly cattle standing up to their knees in the bog just next door, and is at least a mile from the nearest water main or electricity supply. Never mind, a £££ few thousand soon sorts out the services. and rural smells are what it's all about - right? Shame about the single track road though... Planning permission is easily sought, and yet another monstrous 2-storey, 5-bedroom, 3-reception room, housing-estate-style mansion gets built.

How this kind of building 'fits in' with the local environment or 'compliments' existing housing defeats me - but the planning people say that's what it does.

Our 'people' now come and stay in their new house for a few weeks in late spring, when the wind is chill, the mist is low on the hills, and the persistent drizzle patters irritatingly against the huge double glazed windows.... 'I'm not so sure I like it here'...

And another unwanted, un-needed, ugly new-build goes up for sale...


Jayne said...

Well said Richard. When I read posts like yours the Joni Mitchell ear-worm starts up:
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

Richard Dorrell said...

Thank you for your comment Jayne. I appreciate that there are housing difficulties on Skye, and that new homes are needed. My moan is about the inappropriate location, style and size of so many of the newbuilds. The planning department must only employ people who are registered blind.

Jayne said...

I completely understand. I live within sight of the boundary between the Lake District and an AONB; and sadly witness planning lunacy on a monthly basis.
What (we think) we have learnt since moving here is that the job of the planners is NOT to protect, enhance or otherwise benefit the local community. Their role is to enforce planning laws & regulations, and those laws & regulations appear to have a decided presumption in favour of development first, other considerations second - if at all.