SCOTLAND’S PLANNING ‘AT A CROSSROADS’
Conservation: NTS chief fears for historic and natural sites
A leading conservation boss has called for a major overhaul of planning laws to save heritage sites across the country, including Culloden Battlefield.
Simon Skinner, chief executive of the National Trust for Scotland (NTS), has voiced fears for the future of natural and cultural landmarks following the controversial approval of projects at Culloden and the Coul Links in Sutherland.
His comments came as four new development applications have recently been made within the Culloden Conservation Area, on the back of approval for 16 houses near the battlefield NTS owns.
NTS was opposed to the Culloden housing plan at Viewhill by Kirkhill Homes, and also for a golf course at Coul Links, which recently got the go-head from Highland councillors.
Mr Skinner claimed the developments could be “disastrous” for the country’s heritage, and has called on the Scottish Government to toughen the planning system.
Culloden Battlefield is designated as a Conservation Area, while Coul Links falls within a Site of Scientific Special Interest (SSSI).
The NTS chief has questioned whether either designation has any meaning any longer if they were simply “going to be run roughshod over” by the current planning process.
With the Planning (Scotland) Bill to enter its second stage at the parliament, Mr Skinner believes the time is right revise current laws and added: “Culloden and the Coul Links are just two examples of a worrying trend, Scotland’s heritage is too often being cast aside for short-term economic gain.
“The forthcoming bill is the point of no return for Scotland’s heritage.
“It is a watershed that could either prove to be the saviour of some of Scotland’s most special places or the prelude to their irrecoverable loss.
“We are at a crossroads. Do we want to protect our outstanding historical places and natural heritage or not?
“We are in danger of Culloden suffering the same fate as Bannockburn battlefield.”
The NTS boss also criticised approval of the Trump International Golf Links on another SSSI with a unique dune system, and said: “We only need to look to Bannockburn and Foveran Links as examples of development trumping reasonable conservation measures.
“Of course, property developers will always play the jobs and economic growth cards, but we need to think long-term.”
Aedán Smith, head of planning and development at RSPB Scotland, said the planning system “desperately needs reformed” and added: “The Planning Bill is a fantastic opportunity to reprioritise the planning system so it is about making Scotland’s places better in the longterm public interest rather than about encouraging development at almost any cost.
“A number of recent planning decisions, such as Highland Council’s decision to approve a golf course on the internationally-important Coul Links wildlife site on grounds of limited local economic benefits, illustrate how the current system is broken.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The primary responsibility for dealing with planning applications rests with the local planning authority.
“We’re committed to ensuring we have a planning system that works for everyone, recognises the special significance of sites and ensures local communities have a say in their future.”
Regarding the Culloden houses, he said an independent reporter concluded they were to be built on an already-developed site and would not have an adverse impact on the integrity or significance of the battlefield.
He added ministers were still considering whether to call in the application for Coul Links for their determination.
A Scottish Natural Heritage spokeswoman said: “We will be engaging with the forthcoming production of a new National Planning
“The bill is the point of no return for Scotland’s heritage”
“Developers will always play the jobs and economic growth cards”
Framework to help ensure that the planning system continues to deliver.”
Maxine Smith, chairwoman of Highland Council’s north planning committee, which granted the controversial Coul Links golf course, said: “The legislation is set by experts in this field and I believe that currently we have a fairly well balanced system that also allows those who are democratically elected to take decisions where the application is controversial.
“Councillors are well trained on planning laws and these rules are put in place to provide an objective decision, not tarnished by any one side’s thoughts and beliefs.”
WATERSHED: Simon Skinner, NTS chief executive, believes the planning bill could be the saviour of Scotland’s heritage or a prelude to its loss
National Trust for Scotland staff at Culloden Battlefield
Coul Links in Sutherland, where a golf course recently gained approval