Chief executive’s letter to the P&J explains danger
SIR, – It is with no pleasure whatsoever that I report the National Trust for Scotland’s fears for the protection of our heritage are coming to pass.
On 14 January 2014, we wrote to this newspaper and many others concerning the failure of policy and legislation to protect the historic Culloden Battlefield from development. The specific development (Viewhill Farm luxury houses) does not in itself fatally impinge on the battlefield, but it sets a precedent from which other developers can argue for more portions of land to be given over to yet more housing.
To its credit, this was the danger recognised by Highland Council when it originally rejected the application.
Your readers will be aware that the council’s rejection was overturned by the Scottish Reporter.
As I write, an additional four development applications have been submitted, all located in the Conservation Area. These may herald even more development in turn threatening to form a circle that, if unchecked, would eventually widen, join-up and constrict the core site protected by our charity. Exactly what we foresaw may well come about and we are in danger of Culloden suffering the same fate as Bannockburn battlefield.
At the same time, we see councillors have approved a golf course development on the Coul Links, despite it being of such environmental importance it falls within the Loch Fleet Site of Special Scientific Interest.
Four years ago we argued that we need a planning framework that considers the totality and long-term wellbeing of heritage sites rather than the current, diffuse focus on individual planning applications in isolation. That need still exists.
We are at crossroads. Do we want to protect our outstanding historical places and natural heritage or not? Do designations to protect heritage such as Conservation Areas, Listed Building status and SSSIs still have any meaning?
Developers will always argue that pristine sites are more attractive because they are cheaper to build on and offer attractive locations for living and leisure; they will always play the trump card of claiming that jobs and economics outweigh the loss of history and habitats. We would do well to remember that the economic benefit to Scotland from tourism directly attributable to our outstanding places of beauty is far larger than the entire agriculture and fisheries sectors combined. Others value our heritage even if we don’t always appear to.
In 2014, we called on the Scottish Government for dialogue on how we can properly identify sites of national importance and ensure full consideration of heritage significance is embedded within the planning process. It is now time for that dialogue. The forthcoming Planning (Scotland) Bill is a watershed that could prove to be the saviour of some of Scotland’s most special places or the prelude to their irrecoverable loss.