Why we lost the new Battle of Culloden

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 (“Houses will be built near Culloden battleground despite objections”, your report, 8 January).

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.

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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.

The specific development at Culloden 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 their credit, this was the danger recognised by Highland Council when it originally rejected the application.

We need a planning framework that considers the totality and long-term well-being of heritage sites, rather than the current, diffuse focus on individual planning applications in isolation.

Historic Scotland did very good work in preparing an inventory of battlefield sites – 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?

We therefore call 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.

Last year, the Cabinet secretary for culture and external affairs announced there is to be a new strategy for Scotland’s historic environment. This provides an excellent opportunity for serious discussion about the way forward and we at the trust are willing to give of our time and expertise in a constructive fashion.

In any such discussion, as we have always done, we will continue to act as advocates for Culloden and all of the other heritage sites of vital importance to Scotland.

(Sir) Kenneth Calman

Chairman

The National Trust for Scotland

Cultins Road

Edinburgh