Cairngorms National Park Credibility hangs on housing decision

Lapwing (Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group)This article about the Inquiry into the National Park's forthcoming Local Plan has been provided for us by our colleagues in the Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group (BSCG). The first key point to the situation they are telling us about here relates to the timing of changes in legislation. The timing of this particular Inquiry has meant it was held under 'transitional arrangements' which means the Reporters' recommendations are not binding for the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) ie the CNPA can deviate from the Reporters' recommendations (see If the CNPA do decide to go against the advice of the Reporters then they have to justify their reasons for so doing. The legislation has since changed however, and if such an Inquiry was held today, then the CNPA would have had to follow all ofthe Reporters' recommendations.

The second key point here is that legally the CNPA is required to give primacy to the first aim of the National Park. Thus, if it appears that there is a conflict between the first aim, ie "to conserve and enhance the natural and cultural heritage of the area", and the other three National Park aims, then the Park Authority must give greater weight to this first aim. Read on...

The number of new houses proposed to be built in the Park, as detailed in the Cairngorms National Park's forthcoming Local Plan, has been roundly criticised as a "substantial overestimate" by the Scottish Government's Reporters.

After taking evidence at last year's Local Plan Inquiry, the two Inquiry Reporters Mrs Jill Moody and Mr Hugh Begg, concluded: "We are in no doubt that the overwhelming weight of evidence before us leads to a conclusion that the calculation of 1,568 housing units as the housing land requirement to 2016 is a substantial over estimate" and "the housing land requirement is overly generous in any context, let alone that set by the aims of the National Park".

Some highly controversial Proposals in the Local Plan have been recommended for deletion or substantial reduction by the Reporters.

These include nearly 200 houses in Grantown on the Mossie meadows, about 80 houses in native woodland at Boat of Garten, and over 200 houses on long-established farmland at Kingussie. Following this, and this time on the right track, in March the CNPA Board unanimously rejected the application for housing on the Mossie, so prospects for this important site are looking good, though long-term protection is not secure.

Reporters state they "cannot conclude that proposed new settlement at An Camas Mor accords with strategic and relevant national planning policy" and note that "There are landscape and biodiversity matters that constrain the allocation of land to a significant extent, this has not been satisfied".

Arguably the biggest test of whether the National Park is 'fit for purpose' is the proposed entire new town on Rothiemurchus Estate of 'An Camas Mor', next to sensitive European conservation sites and wholly within a National Scenic Area. This 1,500 house Proposal of a supposedly independent settlement, separate from Aviemore, is currently the subject of a live outline application.

This proposal has also been described by the Scottish Council for National Parks as "environmental vandalism".

Scabius Mining Bee (Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group)Far from endorsing An Camas Mor, the Reporters make devastating criticisms of the controversial proposal. They found a "lack of a demonstrable need" for the new settlement and state that there remain significant unanswered questions "about the financial viability of the development".

Many of the Reporters' conclusions deserve to be welcomed. However, it remains to be seen to what extent the CNPA accept them. On May 14 the CNPA board are due to reveal how they are proposing to modify their Local Plan in the light of the Reporters' recommendations. At stake is the fundamental credibility of the National Park Authority and the future of highly vulnerable sites that should be safeguarded for present and future generations.


Images: Lapwing, Vanellus vanellus and Scabious Mining Bee, Andrena marginata photos both taken on the Mossie by Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group.

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