Con­ser­va­tion: NTS chief fears for his­toric and nat­u­ral sites

The Press and Journal (Moray) - - FRONT PAGE - BY ALISTAIR MUNRO

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

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