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Closer look at Census figures for Caithness and Sutherland

12th February 2014

The demographics of Caithness and Sutherland were under the spotlight yesterday (Tuesday 11 February) when Members of the Area Committee took the opportunity to look in some detail at the results from the 2011 census.

Since 2001 the population of Caithness and Sutherland has grown by 3.3% with an increase in four out of six Wards, and at a local level in 34 out of 58 data zones. The statistics also show that between 2001 and 2011 there has been significant population drift from the towns of Thurso and Wick into rural Caithness.

Across the Wards, the highest growth has been in Landward Caithness where the population has risen by 1,245 (12%) which is above the Highland average. The next highest increase has been in the East Sutherland and Edderton Ward where the population has increased by 3.6% while the North West and Central Sutherland Ward has had the lowest growth over the same period of 1.7%

The population in both the Wick and Thurso wards has gone down. In Wick there are 278 less people which represents a 3.8% drop since 2001 and in Thurso there has been a-0.9% decline

In his presentation the Council's Research Officer Cameron Thomas highlighted that the local population growth is strongly linked to the building of new homes. Using maps to look at villages and towns, the statistics showed the greatest increases in population were in and Halkirk (16%), Watten (15%), Bettyhill/Farr (12%) and Lybster (11%) with significant falls in Kinlochbervie (-15%), Castletown (-4%) and Wick(-2%)

Results also show the working age population is now biased towards the older age groups of 42 years and over and the percentage of young people aged 18-29 is slightly higher than in 2001. The age profile across Caithness and Sutherland is highly variable at a local level with 40% of people of retirement age in part of Dornoch comparing to around 10% in parts of Caithness.

Speaking after the presentation, Leader of the Caithness and Sutherland Area Committee, Councillor Deirdre Mackay said: "It has been fascinating to see the wider picture behind the statistics and to get the chance to look in more detail as to what the figures show us. We can see that high levels of population growth directly corresponds to areas where there has been significant house building. This is particularly clear in the Landward Caithness Ward where 752 new homes were built and the population went up higher than the Highland average. The other side of the coin is the decline we have seen in areas where there has been little economic growth or limited new homes built. It is also interesting to see that over the decade people have opted to move out of Wick and Thurso to settle in the surrounding countryside.

"The decade saw the loss of around 1,000 jobs in Caithness and Sutherland and the Census was carried out too early to capture the recent growth in renewables, however there is obviously strong links between economic growth, new house building and population growth. The figures also show us that, like other areas of the Highlands, our population is ageing so we are going to see an increase in retired people over the coming years. All the information captured by the Census will help us to prepare and plan for how we delivery our services for future generations."

Thurso. The overall population fell by 1% with an increase in 4 out of 11 data zones. The strongest growth has been in Scrabster (19%) with small increases in Thurso North West, Pennyland Central and Central (5%, 4% and 2% respectively). The greatest fall was in Springpark (-8%).

Wick. The overall fall of 4% was the greatest fall of all Highland Wards, with an increase in 3 out of 11 data zones. The highest growth of 26% was in Wick Broadhaven where there was significant new house building, with increases of 9% in Wick South and 7% in Central South. The greatest falls were in Pulteneytown South (-18%), South Head (-16%), Hillhead North (-14%) and South West (-12%).

Landward Caithness. Overall growth was above the Highland average at 12% with an increase in 13 out of 15 data zones. The highest growth was in Thurso Rural (50%), Castletown Rural (27%), Westerdale (27%) and Thrumster & Clyth (24%). The single datazone making up the traditional village centre of Castletown fell by 22% as the village grew by expanding outwards rather than by consolidation.

East Sutherland & Edderton. Overall growth was modest at 4% with an increase in 8 out of 12 data zones. The highest growth was in Embo (29%, more than might be expected given the number of new homes built), Brora North (23%) and Dornoch West (12%). The population fell in Brora Rural (-10%), Dornoch East (-9%), and Helmsdale & Kinbrace (-4%).

North West & Central Sutherland. Overall growth was marginal at 2%, with an increase in 6 out of 9 data zones. The highest growth was in Lairg (10%) and the greatest fall in Kinlochbervie & Achfary (-17%).

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