The Cairngorms legal challenge

Tim Ambrose, Spring 2012

Members will know that the SWLG was an enthusiastic supporter of the legal Objection to some of the housing plans set out by the CNPA in its Local Plan which was adopted in October 2010. The CNPA is the ultimate planning authority for the National Park area, and its Local Plan sets out the specific sites which the CNPA allocates for housing and other development. Many of the conservation charities believe that the CNPA focusses far too much on housing and development, at the expense of conservation, let alone enhancement, of the natural heritage of the Cairngorms, and this Local Plan confirms the CNPA obsession with excessive housing developments.

The Cairngorms Campaign, The Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group and The Scottish Campaign for National Parks are conservation charities which lodged a formal Objection in the Court of Session to four of the housing allocations in the Local Plan. These are at Carr-Bridge (where the CNPA proposes up to 117 houses in an area of natural woodland), Nethy Bridge (up to 40 houses and more industrial units in woodland), Kingussie (up to 300 houses in a large estate to the north east of the village), and, most seriously of all, at An Camus Mòr opposite Aviemore where the CNPA proposes an entire New Town of up to 1500 houses plus all the ancilliary development required for such an enormous development.

The legal costs of the case are considerable and the Cairngorms Campaign mounted an appeal for funds last autumn, to which members and the public outraged by these proposals responded most generously. The SWLG contributed £1,000 to the appeal, and individual members contributed more. Sufficient was donated to allow the Hearing to go ahead, and the Case was heard in Edinburgh before Lord Glennie over four days from 10 – 13 January 2012. I attended the full Hearing, and was impressed by the strength of the legal arguments put forward by Sir Crispin Agnew QC for the conservation movement, but at the time of writing the outcome of the case is unknown, while Lord Glennie takes time to consider the arguments from both sides, and to write up his decision. We will publicise the judgement as soon as it is received.

The fundamental argument underlying the entire case comes from the Scottish National Parks Act 2000, which requires the CNPA to give greater weight to the first Aim of “conserving and enhancing the natural and cultural heritage of the area”, whenever there may be conflict with one of the other Aims, such as that supporting sustainable development. Another strand of the argument derives from the way the CNPA completely over-ruled the recommendations of the independent Scottish Government planning Reporters following the local plan Inquiry, and the inadequate reasons it gave for doing so. Inevitably, the arguments and outcome of the case depend more upon the legal procedures which the CNPA may or may not have followed, than upon the fundamental point of principle that a New Town in a National Park should be unthinkable, but it was clear from his questions that the Judge was analysing the arguments from both sides very closely, and we can expect a carefully considered judgement.

Whilst we were preparing for the case, time hurries on, and the CNPA published its draft Park Plan for the next Five Year period 2012 – 2017 in September, as well as a Main Issues Report setting out in more detail its planning proposals. Consultation on both documents lasted till December. We considered both of these were inadequate and gave far too much support for housing and development, at the expense of conservation, and strongly worded responses were made, deploring the proposals for An Camus Mòr and other large housing estates. The CNPA drafts appear to make much mention of conservation, but then ruin the fine words with grossly excessive housing policies, which can only support second home owners and commuters into Inverness, at the expense of the wildlife and scenery of the Cairngorms.

We will wait to see what, if any, notice the CNPA takes of our carefully considered comments, but we are prepared to continue the fight for the Cairngorms, and the Wild Land which remains there.