The Highlands risks “significant” depopulation due to draconian planning laws, a local MSP has warned.
Kate Forbes said the treatment of the region as a “museum” was driving young families away.
The MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch highlighted recent examples in her own constituency, including one instance on Skye and another in Cairngorms National Park where “it took five years to prove why four young local couples and their families might be more important than slow worms and badgers and trees”.
A recent study estimated that the Highlands lacked 18,000 young people in the 15-30-year-old bracket, compared to the rest of Scotland.
Writing in the Press and Journal, Ms Forbes said: “Some view the Highlands and Islands as a museum, a place where artefacts take precedence over people. Don’t touch. Don’t shout. Don’t run. And definitely don’t spoil it for everybody else.
“That’s fair enough at the Louvre, the National Library or an Historic Scotland property. But apply the same rules to communities and you suck the life out of them. Literally.
“Highlands and Islands Enterprise estimate that if the Highlands had the same demographic profile as the rest of Scotland, there would be an additional 18,000 young people in the 15 to 30 age range.
“We’re missing a significant chunk of a generation and with some attitudes, policies and actions we’re well on our way to missing a second generation.”
Ms Forbes highlighted two situations where she argued planning objections were holding back development and not encouraging investment in the Highlands.
“Last month, the Cairngorms National Park Authority finally approved an application for a housing development at the old sawmill site in Rothiemurchus,” she said.
“It took five years to prove why four young local couples and their families might be more important than slow worms and badgers and trees.
“The greatest irony of all is that a commercial saw mill occupied the site 40 years ago and then a dump, before nature took over.
“The National Park is unique in that one of its aims is to promote sustainable economic and social development of the area’s communities.
“Requiring locals to shell out thousands of pounds and spend five years negotiating planning applications is an active dereliction of that aim.”
Another case was Scottish Natural Heritage’s objections to a small housing site in Staffin, according to the MSP.
The Cairngorms National Park Authority aims to “conserve and enhance the natural and cultural heritage of the area, promote sustainable use of the natural resources of the area, promote understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the area by the public and to promote sustainable economic and social development of the area’s communities”.
Scottish Natural Heritage aims to “promote, care for, and improve natural heritage, help people enjoy nature responsibly, enable greater understanding and awareness of nature and promote the sustainable use of Scotland’s natural heritage”.
Neither responded to requests for comment yesterday.