Achtercairn, Gairloch: Regenerating A Rural Highland Community

Gairloch, United Kingdom Economic sustainability, Local social sustainability, Relations to stakeholders, Target groups of housing
Responsible Housing Award



Communities across the Highlands have suffered depopulation, loss of services, challenges of increasing tourism and house prices and consequent loss of existing housing stock, and increased pressure on remaining businesses and services – and therefore reduced access to housing, land, and assets.

The village of Gairloch sits on the coast of Wester Ross, in the northwest Highlands of Scotland. It’s a comparatively small village, with a permanent population of around 750, but is the main hub for the region, with shops, services, and a high school.

Already popular with tourists in an Area of Outstanding Beauty (AOB), the introduction of the North Coast 500 route has brought increased tourist numbers and income to Gairloch, as well as numerous challenges. The proliferation of second homes and holiday lets had led to a lack of available housing, with prices beyond the means of the local population.

The local school roll had been declining, as families were unable to find suitable and/or affordable homes in the area. Similar outward migration by young people, also struggling to find homes, and dependent on a low-wage, seasonal tourist economy was changing the demographic – and long-term sustainability – of the village.

There was strong community support for regenerating the site, while simultaneously addressing the main issues they faced.

The Communities Housing Trust (CHT) led a steering group of over 50 community representatives from a range of local organisations, landowners, and the public sector, to maximise the potential of a derelict site and adjacent land to address the complex needs of the community. The mixed development at Achtercairn combines affordable homes with a range of tenures, and social, commercial, education & training facilities. CHT homes also have a Rural Housing Burden title condition attached. This innovation was developed by CHT and is a legal title condition which provides a percentage discount from the market value, and the property owner has 100% ownership. If the home is sold, CHT has the right to buy back the home and sell on, again with a percentage discount and applying an allocation policy prioritising people with local connections. Therefore, affordability is protected in perpetuity. The Burden ensures housing stock remains for use by the local community.

Issues tackled

Communities Housing Trust (CHT) takes a collaborative, partnership approach with communities across central and northern Scotland to provide essential, high-quality and genuinely affordable housing and accompanying amenities.

The village of Gairloch, in the northwest Highlands, is a good example of this approach in practice. The Achtercairn regeneration project grew into a community-led development tailored to local and long-term needs which addressed the social and economic inequality of this rural and remote area, as well as the climate crisis.

They set up a close partnership with the community to provide what the community needed – which of course required a very holistic view.

Long-term Place Planning with over 20 local, regional, and national partners identified the following objectives:

  • Help develop a sustainable, vibrant community
  • Support and increase the diversity of housing tenures, providing options for people to remain in their community regardless of their financial status
  • Support and increase businesses and other service opportunities
  • Retain existing families who would otherwise have to leave due to a lack of affordable housing & a high percentage of second homes
  • Encourage young families to move to the area to address the falling school roll and ensure the retention of primary school education in the community
  • Ensure affordability of new homes in perpetuity, specifically for the local community
  • Address rural inequalities e.g., access to services and further education; fuel poverty
  • Regenerate a derelict site in the village centre, which was an eyesore and was negatively affecting morale and the local economy
  • Acquisition of land adjacent to the derelict site to maximise the potential of the regeneration project
  • Ensure community wealth building for the long-term – not only in financial terms but in services, resources, and skills.

Actors involved

  • Communities Housing Trust (CHT)
  • The village of Gairloch
  • A steering group of over 50 community representatives


  • Undertaking one of the first Local Place Plans in Scotland
  • Range of partners providing homes spreads risk & increases options for a wider range of residents to remain long-term
  • Retained families in the area & school roll has increased
  • The GALE Centre is Scotland’s first public building to be awarded Passivhaus status and used Scottish-grown timber. It attracts over 40,000 visitors a year. Dedicated office space for GALE has enabled them to take on more staff (now 20) and employ them all year. GALE generates ~£250,000 annually. 75% is spent back in the local community on further projects & services
  • GALE community shop, run by volunteers & local groups, stocks produce from over 40 local makers & producers, supporting the circular economy of a wider area to the tune of £50,000 annually
  • GALE community café provides food & drink made by local producers, using local ingredients, supporting food sovereignty as well as the local bakers, who receive around £25,000 annually for their cakes
  • Growing space also provides fruit, veg & herbs for the café, with zero food miles
  • Coffee grinds from the café & other building waste is composted for use on the veggie beds, contributing to zero waste
  • University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) learning hub, enabling doorstep education opportunities for all ages
  • Confidence for local groups to undertake projects, such as Gairloch Museum regenerating their facilities next door

Impacts were reported by GALE, residents and businesses.

Why it works

Across similar areas of Scotland, communities are very literally dying out. Gairloch has turned this on its head: the scale and uses of this tailored development are unique to the Highlands.

The specific set of challenges in this area – social, economic, practical, and environmental – required a very collaborative, community-led approach, which helps bring whole communities into the planning process, and encourages a more participatory and democratic model. Because of this, it can particularly benefit local circular and well-being economies, as well as help, address the climate crisis more appropriately, by creating more genuinely long-term, stable and resilient communities.

The model is already being adapted and implemented elsewhere, for example in the work with the crofting community of Staffin in Skye, a mixed development providing a range of affordable homes with multiple partners, commercial opportunities, and a new NHS health centre.


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