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Scottish Government ministers reject appeal against Highland Council refusal of planning permission for Treetops leisure complex development on Culloden Battlefield site run by National Trust for Scotland

By Scott Maclennan

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The proposed holiday lodges at Culloden.
The proposed holiday lodges at Culloden.

A separate appeal against refusal of permission to turn a former steading also on the battlefield site into a family home has, however, been granted.

The decision to refuse permission for the proposed Treetops leisure complex plans sees Scottish ministers overrule their own official reporter who had backed an appeal by developers, lodged after the plans were rejected by Highland Council's south planning applications committee in December last year.

Branding the Treetops scheme "unacceptable" ministers decided the proposed development by Inverness Paving to create 13 new holiday lodges, a restaurant and an on-site café/ retail facility on the site of a former equestrian centre would have a detrimental effect on both the battlefield site and the wider area.

They stated it would have a "suburbanising effect" on open countryside and "detract from the character and appearance of the conservation area, the special qualities of the battlefield and sense of identity.”

However, a separate appeal for the conversion of a former farm steading near Culchunaig Farmhouse into a family home was also granted this week, despite it also being within the battlefield inventory area – as with the Treetops application covering an area wider than the battlefield area cared for by the National Trust for Scotland.

Highland Council had rejected that application on the grounds that it was not sensitive to the character and appearance of the conservation area and special qualities of the battlefield itself.

The proposed holiday lodges at Culloden.
The proposed holiday lodges at Culloden.

In terms of the Treetops application the local authority had turned it down on similar grounds including its positioning within local woodland.

Considering the appeal by Inverness Paving, government reporter Christopher Warren argued the refusal should be overturned despite an unauthorised clearing of protected trees to make way for the lodges on the grounds that giving the go-ahead was the best way to secure “replacement or compensatory planting” and to “safeguard the health of trees”.

On the issue of the impact on the battlefield he said the development would be “appropriately assimilated without any significant effects.”

He added: “The development would not detract from the historical significance and special qualities of the inventory battlefield, nor the character and appearance of the wider conservation area.”

Rejecting his findings Scottish ministers responded: “Whilst recognising that unauthorised woodland removal has already taken place, ministers conclude that the permanent loss of tree protection order woodland required to enable the proposed lodges and ancillary development is unacceptable.

“Ministers consider that the loss of protected woodland, together with the impacts on the historic environment assets of Culloden Inventory Battlefield and the Culloden Muir Conservation Area mean the proposed development is contrary to the development plan overall.

“The material considerations, including the economic and tourism benefits, do not outweigh the identified significant and demonstrable adverse impacts, nor do they warrant a departure from the development plan.”

Inverness Paving now has six weeks to appeal to the Court of Session against the government decision.

In terms of the steading proposal ministers agreed to give the go-ahead to applicant Mark Hornby, agreeing in that case with the reporter's findings.

The proposal had provoked a mixed response amongst the public, with many against the idea of any new development on or near Culloden Battlefield while others saw the plan as simply bringing an already existing, though dilapidated, building back into use.

Reporter Steve Field said: “As the proposed development would entail the conversion of a derelict, traditional farm steading, I consider that the proposals would qualify as an exception to the presumption against new housing in the countryside."

He further added that the conversion would “make a positive contribution to the architectural and visual quality" of the area and would “not have any significant adverse effects on the historic battlefield."

The project can now proceed unless Highland Council also decides to appeal to the Court of Session.

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