Culloden Battlefield could be under threat from “runaway” development after a precedent of building homes on the historic site was set, it has been claimed.
The claims comes after a luxury home was approved on land at Culchunaig, which sits just to the south of the part of the battlefield owned by National Trust for Scotland and a few hundred yards from the visitor centre.
Historians say Culchunaig saw ‘major action’ on the Jacobite right wing during the battle in April 1746 with Historic Environment Scotland acknowledging the possibility of human remains around the site.
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The development at Culchunaig, which includes a hot tub, zen garden, fire pit, studio, gaming and chill out zone, was passed essentially as a 19th-century farm cottage had earlier stood on the land.
Councillor Andrew Jarvie (Conservative), of Inverness South, said he was concerned future development in the Culchunaig area will be very difficult to stop due to the precedent set at last week’s planning meeting.
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He said: “I could not have been any more disappointed that it was in effect, impossible to do anything to stop this development which was right on the boundary fence of the battlefield and only a few hundred meters from the visitor centre itself.”
The Culchunaig plans were originally approved in 2015, just before the Culloden Muir Conservation Area was drawn up to protect the sensitive area around the battlefield.
The application dealt with last week was a revision of the original application.
Councillor Jarvie said: “This decision was made by officers using delegated powers, meaning Councillors had no say on the matter. Now when the renewal with one less out building came to the planning committee, it was basically a done deal and our sole purpose was just to rubber stamp the approval.
“Barring the application being totally different to what was granted in 2015, there was absolutely no way a refusal would be upheld at appeal.
“That option was taken away from us in 2015. I do not think I need to explain just how important, regardless of your view, Culloden Battlefield is to the history of this country.
“Rather than allowing these loopholes to wreck our most important heritage assets, we should set up as fund as many other countries have done to buy these sorts of buildings and return the site to nature.
“However, what worries me the most now is the potential for runaway development in this area. There are two existing houses reasonably close to this new house and current policy allows an exemption to building in sensitive areas if there are a group of three or more houses.”
At Viewhill, which sits to the north of the battlefield, 16 homes were approved last year. The site had previously been home to agricultural buildings.
Previous development on a site makes it much harder for a planning authority to refuse a new application for the same land.
Meanwhile, Historic Environment Scotland is “redrawing” its battlefield inventory of Culloden amid the planning controversies.
HES said the inventory would include new historical and archaeological research for Culloden.
Historians and academics are due to gather at Culloden next month to study the new improved inventory.
A spokesman for HES said: “The Battlefield Inventory was launched in 2011 and was designed to highlight Scotland’s most important battlefields.
“Along with key stakeholders and others involved in the management of Scotland’s battlefield sites we are currently considering updates to our inventory battlefield records. This process will involve all of the current 40 inventory battlefields.
“As part of this, we have begun looking at new historical and archaeological research for Culloden, including information sent to us by academics. We now plan to meet with researchers and other stakeholders next month to discuss this.”
However, it is not clear how effective a new inventory could be in influencing the planning process.
Planners should used the inventories to consider any impact a development could have on a battlefield site, but there is no legislation to compel them to do so.
Dr Christopher Duffy, of the Historians Council on Culloden said it was a “voluntary” position to consider the significance of a battlefield in the planning process.
He added: “The historical value of a site is just one of the considerations that is borne in mind. It is far too easily over burdened by other considerations.
“I think adding to the inventory will certainly increase understanding of the battlefield as new information is coming to light all the time.
“But unless there is actually legislation in place to actually protect a battlefield,the inventory will have little impact.”
National Trust for Scotland owns just a third of the land on which the battle was fought, leaving the remainder open to private development.
Dr Duffy said a new Culloden conservation group planned to focus on the acquisition of other parts of the battlefield in order to protect them from development.