SWLG supports an appeal against National Park approval for a new town in the Cairngorms

Tim Ambrose, Autumn 2011

The Scottish Wild Land Group has resolved to contribute £1,000 towards the (potentially very substantial) legal costs of an Appeal submitted jointly by The Cairngorms Campaign, Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group and the Scottish Campaign for National Parks against the Local Plan adopted by the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA).

To summarise a very long and detailed story, which has much longer still to run, since the establishment of the National Park in 2003, the CNPA is effectively the ultimate planning authority for the Cairngorms National Park. For several years it has been preparing its Local Plan which sets out the detailed planning policies against which all planning applications in the area of the National Park will be judged. In October 2010, the CNPA formally adopted its final version of the Local Plan.

This includes much which is creditable and worthwhile, but crucially for the wild land interest it also includes approval for very substantial housing developments on woodland, agricultural land and undeveloped land which we believe are completely inappropriate for a National Park. The most objectionable approval is for an entire new town of up to 1500 houses, with ancilliary commercial and community buildings, just on the other side of the River Spey from Aviemore. This new town is proposed to be named “An Camus Mor”, which the CNPA and developers must hope is less obvious than “Aviemore New Town” or “Aviemore 2”.

The Local Plan also includes approval for 40 more houses in Nethy Bridge on a site of old woodland, approval for up to 117 new houses in Carrbridge, and 300 houses in Kingussie. In each of these cases, the proposed developments would be completely out of scale with the existing settlements, and would have very serious adverse impacts on the wildlife of Speyside, including red squirrels, capercaillie, and numerous less obvious species. Such huge new housing estates in the Cairngorms (and in a National Park) would seriously reduce the wildness of the Cairngorms and their adjacent areas, and set a disastrous precedent for further unsuitable developments in Scotland’s wildest mountains.

The CNPA is obliged to implement, in a co-ordinated way, the four statutory aims set out in the National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000, which include:

“a) to conserve and enhance the natural and cultural heritage of the area, and …

d) to promote sustainable economic and social development of the area’s communities”,

with the very important proviso that if there is conflict between the first aim and any other, then the CNPA must give greater weight to the first aim – ie to conserve and enhance the natural ..heritage of the area.

How the CNPA considers that building a New Town in the middle of Speyside amounts to sustainable development is beyond us, (surely “sustainable” means that you can keep on doing the same thing year after year without permanent damage – how can a huge one-off building project on a greenfield site possibly be sustainable?), but regardless of this, a New Town with thousands of houses, roads and other buildings, and thousands of inhabitants and their cars, is clearly damaging to the natural heritage of the countryside in which it is built.

As part of the process leading to the Local Plan, there was an Inquiry conducted by two Reporters appointed by the Scottish Government who considered all the arguments on both sides, and made their recommendations. In relation to An Camus Mor, they considered all the evidence, including population projections, and concluded:

“we cannot endorse the proposal for a new settlement at An Camus Mor”.

Similarly, in relation to the substantial housing estates proposed at Carrbridge, Nethy Bridge and Kingussie, the Reporters recommended either suspension or great scaling down. The CNPA has decided to over-ride all these recommendations.

We believe the CNPA is seriously wrong, and acting completely unreasonably. The very body specifically set up to conserve the Cairngorms is pushing for large scale developments which will inflict serious and permanent damage to the wildlife and scenery of the area.

A formal Appeal against these aspects of the CNPA Local Plan has been lodged in the Court of Session, and if no satisfactory resolution can be reached, it is likely that a formal hearing of the Case will be held in due course.

The SWLG considers this case is very important for Scotland’s wild land, and is pleased to offer its support.