THE head of Scotland’s leading conservation charity has called for a change in planning laws to protect important historic sites after a controversial housing scheme next to Culloden Battlefield was given the go-ahead.
Sir Kenneth Calman, chairman of the National Trust for Scotland, has stepped into the row which erupted when a Scottish Government reporter overturned Highland Council’s refusal of the 16-home development.
The plan by developers Inverness Properties to knock down old farm buildings and construct the houses within 400 metres of the historic location had been rejected by the local authority on advice of planning officials.
An objections had also been made by the NTS, who manage the Culloden Battlefield, but not Historic Scotland.
The decision by Scottish Government report, Richard Hickman, to grant planning permission on appeal has provoked criticism across the globe.
In a letter to The Scotsman, the NTS chairman seeks to open dialogue with the government “on how we can properly identify sites of national importance and ensure full consideration of heritage significance is embedded within the planning process”.
He said: “As the charity entrusted with conserving our national heritage, we would be failing our 312,000 members and the people of Scotland if we did not express our ongoing concern about the decision of the Scottish Reporter to permit housing development adjacent to the battlefield of Culloden.
“While we accept that Historic Scotland and the Scottish Reporter worked within the parameters set for them in coming to this decision, it is clear that these parameters are wrong and need to be questioned.
“It seems to us that the fundamental issue is that there must be better ways to taking strategic decisions about protecting sites of national importance.”
Sir Kenneth added: “ We must find a way to prevent a piecemeal approach in which many individual, small-scale permitted developments incrementally join up to overwhelm a heritage site.”
He said that while this specific proposal does not “fatally impinge on the battlefield” it sets a precedent from which other developers can argue for more portions of land to be given over to yet more housing.
The NTS chairman said a planning framework was needed to protect the long-term wellbeing of heritage sites.
And while he praises Historic Scotland on their “good work” in preparing an inventory of battlefield sites, he adds: “But what use is this if we do not have the legislative and procedural means to ensure the intrinsic value of these sites is considered in any decisions that affect them?”
The Scottish government-appointed reporter last week decided that planning permission could be granted subject to an agreement being reached on a financial contribution from the developer towards affordable housing and footpaths.
A government spokesperson said: “Once this agreement has been reached, the reporter will issue his final decision on the appeal.
“The reporter has agreed with Historic Scotland that it is unlikely that the proposal would have any impact on the character and ambience of the battlefield.”
Meanwhile, Highland Council has instructed lawyers to consider the actions of the Scottish Government overturning its rejection, with Councillor Ken Gowans claiming: “The next stage is that we could take it to the Court of Session.”
Opponents to the scheme claim the development will damage the setting on Drumossie Moor and set back archaeological research.
Culloden Battlefield was the location of the last pitched battle fought on British soil where Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Young Pretender, and his Jacobite Army were defeated by Government forces on April 16, 1746, ending his claim to the British throne – and claiming over 2,000 lives.
Historic Scotland concluded that the homes would “be barely visible, if at all” from the centre of the battlefield.
A petition has also be set up to halt the housing project and has attracted angry comments from as far afield as North America and Australia.
A spokesman for Inverness Properties said the housing was replacing unsightly farm buildings, would “enhance” the surroundings of the battlefield and was in line with planning guidance.