It's the obvious Highland dichotomy: how do you make life viable for the population whilst protecting the beautiful, ancient environment that makes it so special?
These issue came into focus once again as the row over a proposal to build a house and shed continued to rumble on in Wester Ross.
The Scottish Government and local councils want people living in rural communities - the younger the better - to ensure they remain viable. And the Crofting Commission wants crofters to live on their crofts where possible, or at least within 20 miles.
But at the same time the internationally acclaimed landscape must be protected - we are talking geese and golden eggs here.
In the most general of terms the Scottish Government's body Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) is frequently painted as one of the bad guys in this context , not least by crofters. SNH is often seen to be making life difficult for them, appearing to object to development after development for the sake of it - or in SNH's view to protect the vital Highland biodiversity. SNH has even been accused of aiding depopulation. Highland Council has a better public profile on that front.
But the roles have been reversed in the Torridon area of Wester Ross. The council it was who refused an application from crofter Elaine Holmes to build a turf-roofed house and shed on the croft she was assigned in 2011. SNH was entirely relaxed about the proposal.
She was born and bred in Torridon. She lives eight miles away in the village of Shieldaig, but keeps pigs and chickens on the croft. She wants to live in the community. She works at Torridon Stores and is a housekeeper for the landowner, the National Trust for Scotland's (NTS) local properties. She has three children, and Torridon needs all the people it can get.
Torridon has already seen its primary school mothballed last year because of a lack of pupils, although there was also a controversy about the education authority's treatment of the former headteacher.
The issue of the house and shed divided the local community. Nine villagers objected to the house earlier this year warning it would blight the area's character, but seven supported the development.
Planning officials explained what they believed was at stake . "Torridon is one of the very few remaining loch-side villages in the north west Highlands where almost all of the development has occurred on the landward side of the public road. The village is framed by a mountainous backdrop, with open countryside between the public road and the loch which defines the village edge and the seascape of Loch Torridon. All houses bar one are situated on the landward side of the public road with the seaward side free of development affording outstanding public views down to and across Loch Torridon. The absence of development on the lochside is a notable element which serves to accentuate the quality of this vista."
The planners did give credit for the "considerable thought" that had gone into the design aspect of the proposal from Ms Holmes, saying: "The solution arrived at delivers low rise structures of modest scale and footprint, with carefully chosen cladding materials for both walls and roofs. The single storey buildings are dug into the existing slope and positioned close to the existing wall which runs along the seaward side of the public road. As a result the ridge levels of both the house and agricultural shed sit below the top of this wall. This means that the buildings will not be readily apparent to users of the public road."
Despite the planned development being barely visible from the road, a majority of councillors agreed with their planning officials that it would "erode the wider landscape setting to its detriment."
Ms Holmes appealed to the Scottish Government's Directorate of Planning Emergencies and Appeals, telling them "I've worked hard and still do to help support my community. Over the past 10 or more years I have been a school cook, cleaner and classroom assistant. I was also a member of the Torridon retained Fire Service and of Torridon First Responders as well as the Community Car Scheme.
"I was assigned the croft in 2011. Unusually, the croft was given to me at no cost and this was to help me build my own croft house as well as to start bringing the croft back into use."
This would have been music to the Crofting Commission's ears, and should have been to other public authorities. But the appeals directorate upheld the decision by Highland Council.
Government reporter David Gordon accepted Torridon was "a fragile community" and there were "few obvious opportunities for development" but doubted whether Ms Holmes actually needed to live at her croft. He said. "I accept that looking after her animals and plants would be more convenient if she lived on, or closer to, the croft," stated Mr Gordon. "However, the croft is small and she has a range of work interests and I am not persuaded that she has a strong need to live at the appeal site."
But her case has been taken up by Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF) leaders who have written directly to Derek MacKay, the Scottish Government's minister for local government and planning, asking him to intervene, but on different grounds.
The SCF points out that the reporter's decision contradicts government policy and risks undermining the credibility of Scotland's rural development strategy. It also highlights that while the council planners' concerns about landscape setting had clearly made an impression on the civil servants in Edinburgh, SNH, the Government's statutory adviser on landscape matters, said the house "would not compromise" the views in Torridon.
The estimable SCF vice chair Fiona Mandeville said the planning system had come to a very unusual decision in this case. It acknowledged that Highland planning policy called for population and services to be retained in remote rural areas. However, the planning directorate's report made no serious effort to quantify the effect of Elaine Holmes and her family being present in Torridon, an area which has an elderly population.
"Equally strange is the fact that the decision flies in the face of the advice of SNH, the relevant expert authority on landscape matters, who did not object to this application, despite the fact that it will be in a National Scenic Area," said Ms Mandeville.
"According to the tortured logic of the planning system the proposed house must be refused because, in the planners' opinion, it 'erodes' the local landscape, even though the statutory authority on such matters has stated that the same house in the same landscape does not detract from the views in a national scenic area.
"This contradiction is unacceptable and, in this case, we believe the advice of the relevant expert body should take precedence over the opinion of planners who live, in some cases, hundreds of miles away from Torridon."
She added that the decision to refuse the house had undermined the credibility of one of the government's key pledges on rural affairs. The pledge to "enable development in all rural areas which supports prosperous and sustainable communities whilst protecting and enhancing environmental quality."
Ms Mandeville said: "Given SNH's advice, approval of Ms Holmes' house would have been in perfect accord with this policy. It would also have met the government's commitment to 'support more opportunities for small scale housing development'. It is important for crofting, and for 'fragile' west coast areas in general, that Mr MacKay reconsiders the Government's reasoning on this matter."
While we await Mr MacKay's response, it is worth recalling the comment made by one Highland luminary some years back.
This was to the effect that the vast majority of the older houses that now comprise villages and townships across the Highlands and Islands, whose character planning law now seeks to protect, would probably be refused planning permission today because of their visual impact on the peerless landscape.
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