Communities ready to take a stand over planning process
COMMUNITY councils across Lochaber say they are ready to take a stand over a perceived lack of transparency in the local authority’s planning process.
At their meeting on April 10, Caol Community Council (CCC) voiced its intention to write to the Highland Council’s (HC) planning department as they feel its thoughts and suggestions are falling on deaf ears.
John Gillespie pointed out that despite HC putting the onus on community councils to hold consultations, engage with the public and report back any issues which arise, more often than not applications are given the green light without further notification.
Donald Elder agreed and said: ‘There have been at least 20 amendments to the Lochyside development since the planning sessions were held here [Caol Community Centre]. Roads, flooding, the zebra crossing being moved - loads of things have changed since planning closed and we were never informed. Changes were recently made to the orientation of the houses. Householders received letters but the community council doesn’t seem to have been kept in the loop.’
It was suggested that unless a change is classed as ‘major’, the council does not have to come back to anyone who has raised a concern or commented.
John Gillespie added: ‘There is a difference between statutory requirement and common courtesy. It makes you think what is the point of putting your concerns forward?’
Spean Bridge, Roy Bridge and Achnacarry Community Council chairman John Fotheringham told the Lochaber
Times there is no explanation as to why the council comes to the decisions it does on plans, it just does. He continued: ‘About three-and-a-half years ago we objected to camping pods at Gairlochy which went to the south planning application committee and we got about 11 seconds of discussion on it. We threatened to pull out of the planning process and the HC almost had kittens. They then sent down a top planning official to see us.’
There were similar discussions at the latest Duror and Kentallen Community Council meeting where members decided to write to the ombudsman after feeling ‘ignored’ by the council on a planning application.
Despite objecting to a sixhouse development in the village, the planning application was granted earlier this year.
Chairman Jonathan Baxter said: ‘ The Highland Council is going to have to pay greater attention to what communities have to say about planning.’
Another community councillor commented: ‘ The community council won’t just sit back and do nothing.’
A HC spokesperson said: ‘We do try and work with all contributors to ensure they have the opportunity to participate. We will always take on board positive suggestions on how we can improve our service and continue to support the development of Lochaber and Highland.’
The Lochaber Times also understands there are plans for the Lochaber Area Committee to have increased powers and asked HC if planning would be included in this.
HC responded: ‘ The current position is that relevant planning applications are reported to two planning applications committees – North and South. It is not intended to change this at the current time.’