Urgent talks are needed to prevent people in the Highlands being "frozen out" of homes by holiday let owners, according to an SNP MP.

Ian Blackford has raised serious concerns about the availability and rising cost of properties in a letter to Highland Council Chief Executive Donna Manson and leader Margaret Davidson that has been co-signed by a number of local politicians.

He has called for a pilot scheme which controls the number of short term lets in Badenoch and Strathspey to be extended to Fort William & Ardnamurchan, Wester Ross and Skye and Lochalsh.

It comes after the Hebridean Housing Partnership (HHP) moved to block holiday home hunters from buying one of its vacant properties at Daliburgh on South Uist.

Mr Blackford, who is SNP MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, said the problem was leading to young people leaving the area.

Lochaber Chamber of Commerce members have expressed concern about the lack of available housing for employees, which it said was impacting on the ability to recruit and retain staff.

READ MORE: Agenda: Have your say on short-term lets 

More than half of all homes in West Ardnamurchan are said to be holiday homes and some townships have experienced a 90% surge in the rate.

“Demand for second homes being bought from the present stock of housing is a factor in the rising cost of properties in the areas and, in many cases, rules out the opportunity for local young people to compete in this market,” the SNP's Westminster Leader said.


“We have also seen the increased availability of short term lets through platforms such as ‘Air B&B’ which is shifting the balance of housing usage in many areas.

"Tourism is an integral part of our life in the Highlands and plays an important part in our economy – but it has to be sustainable and it has to be managed.

“There will be various area-specific solutions for trying to alleviate the situation to enable our population to flourish – especially in some of our more remote areas - while also allowing our main areas of population to grow and attract inward investment.

READ MORE: Scottish Government makes 'pragmatic' changes to short-term let legislation 

"In turn, this would enable us to keep our young people in the Highlands and attract families to the area.”

Dr Michael Foxley, a former leader of Highland Council, who is now a community councillor, said the problem was having a "corrosive negative impact" on the area.

He said: "There is now a very serious crisis in Highland rural areas and the island, which directly prevents our young people from being able to remain living in their own communities.

"Urgent and determined action is now required by the Scottish Government and by the Highland Council."

Lochaber Chamber of Commerce is carrying out a housing needs analysis aimed at collecting robust data about the impact of the housing shortage.

Chamber CEO Frazer Coupland said: “Housing is rapidly becoming everyone’s problem in Lochaber, with a lack of suitable accommodation directly affecting our businesses' ability to recruit and retain staff. 

“We are working closely with the Highland Council and our local businesses to produce a much-needed analysis of our housing needs in Lochaber and we look forward to working with others to help provide solutions to the challenges we face.”

READ MORE: Airbnb crackdown plan 'grounded in lies and nonsense' owners claim 

Mr Blackford said affordable housing barriers in the Ross, Skye and Lochaber constituency include accessing suitably priced land, current crofting legislation and the lack of major house builders commiting to developments on the west coast.

Mr Blackford said: “Looked at as a whole, these issues present a large obstruction to overcome.

"We would, therefore, suggest that we must tackle this as a team for the benefit of the Highlands, using all the resources at hand from within the Scottish Government and the UK government, including recourse to changes to legislation and monetary requirements.

“We would like to look at areas such as vacant housing. Given that there are approximately 3000 empty premises in the Highlands, we would invite consideration of a change to the existing legislation to force /enable these premises to come back onto the market, especially on our High Streets."

Housing Secretary Shona Robison last month announced a number of “pragmatic and significant” changes to the planned licensing scheme for short-term rental properties.

As part of that, regulations designed to prevent an “overprovision” of Airbnb-style properties are to be ditched from the scheme.

Ms Robison insisted these were not needed as powers being given to local council areas to establish control areas could be used to prevent too many short-term lets from being set up in any given location.

In a letter to MSPs on Holyrood’s Local Government, Housing and Planning committee, the Housing Secretary said that “one of the main purposes of control areas is to help manage high concentrations of secondary letting” – adding that these could be used where the availability of residential housing or the character of a neighbourhood were impacted.

Other changes will see a simplification of the way that neighbours are notified about licence applications, as well as removing personal names from the public register of short-term lets.

Highland council said it is co-operating with the Scottish Government on the planned changes.