George Allan

A major review of permitted development rights (PDR) is underway in Scotland with the intention of freeing up the planning system by granting PDR in a greater number of situations. Following the LINK Hill Tracks Campaign, the Scottish Government has agreed to review how the Prior Notification system for tracks, introduced five years ago, is working and whether further tightening of the law is needed. This review was scheduled to start in February but has been delayed. LINK has put forward options for improving the situation but is convinced that, with regard to ‘agricultural tracks’ (i.e. those in open ground which are the ones that hill goers are most concerned about), full consent is the only way to finally reduce abuses of the system and poor construction on the ground.

Meanwhile in Clova various tracks have been high on NEMT’s agenda. Firstly, readers visiting the glen will be aware of an ugly scar running up the hillside above the Clova Hotel (see cover photo). The top part of this was constructed without consent and, after discussions with the land owner, who also owns the hotel, went nowhere, the Cairngorms National Park issued a notice for its removal. The landowner lodged an appeal which failed, the Reporter upholding the Park’s decision with some minor amendments to the details. This is v. good news indeed: all praise to the Park for taking this robust stance. It sends a clear statement of intent regarding the action it will take when land owners show complete disregard for the law and the landscape.

Taking action to remove tracks is very rare indeed. Planning authorities like to resolve issues through negotiation as taking enforcement action is time consuming and costly. Unfortunately the negotiation road often leads to compromise to the detriment of the landscape. The lower section of this track was upgraded on the line of an old track and is now subject to a retrospective planning application. The work undertaken is of poor quality and NEMT has submitted its criticisms to the Park.

The lower track above the Clova hotel
– poor quality upgrading © George Allan

There is a visibly intrusive upgraded track on crest of the ridge to the west of the southern end of Clova. NEMT investigated this and found that it had received consent from Angus Council under the Prior Notification system. NEMT’s view is that what has been created on the ground does not correspond with what the applicant said in their submission; the latter suggested that the work would be much less extensive.

NEMT wrote to the Council raising concerns and, when these were rejected, submitted a formal alleged Breach of Planning Report. Angus Council’s response was again to defend its decision but without answering fully specific issues raised by NEMT. NEMT wrote laying out these concerns and, after considerable delay, received a fuller explanation. NEMT still does not agree with the Council’s position but, after taking legal advice, considers that there is little point in pursuing the matter further. This case is a prime example of a situation where, with more consideration at the initial decision making phase, conditions could have been applied which would have allowed the landowner to upgrade the track, which does have legitimate agricultural purposes, while minimizing the visual impact.

NEMT will be contacting Angus Council to raise certain principles which have emerged from this saga.

Finally, we are concerned that the tracks to digital masts are often given inadequate consideration. As digital infrastructure tends to be sited as close to a road as possible, such tracks are often very visible to the general tourist travelling through the Highlands. We have written to the Scottish Government, as part of its review of Permitted Development Rights, making suggestions about how visual impacts could be reduced whatever legal framework covers digital infrastructure.

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