11th November 2011
Members of the Cairngorms National Park Authority Planning Committee today (Friday 11th November 2011) by 11 votes to 5 refused plans for 77 houses and associated works at Boat of Garten woods.
At a meeting in Boat of Garten Community Hall, members of the Planning Committee heard from the applicant Davall Developments and their representatives, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and Boat of Garten Community Council before making the final decision. The application had been deferred in January 2011 to allow the applicant the opportunity to further develop measures surrounding the impact of the development on capercaillie which are protected under European law.
Speaking about the outcome, Planning Committee Chairman Duncan Bryden said: “This is one of the hardest decisions our Planning Committee has been faced with since the National Park was founded in 2003. There is a real pressure for affordable homes in the area but this site is not the answer. We are currently consulting on other potential sites in Boat of Garten.
“I know many people in Boat of Garten will be disappointed by our decision but I want to reassure them we will continue to work very hard to try to get more affordable housing in the village and will be meeting with the community as soon as possible.
“We deferred the application in January to give the applicant the opportunity to find measures which would allow homes to be built on the site without risk to the capercaillie population in the woods. Since then, CNPA and Scottish Natural Heritage Officers have taken a constructive approach with the applicant to agree the criteria against which any measures would be assessed and have provided advice and feedback throughout.
“Additional research carried out by the applicant has shown more people are using the woods to walk their dogs, mountain bike and exercise than thought. Unfortunately there is simply too much uncertainty as to how all the people in these 77 new homes plus dogs and visitors would use the woods, even with the measures proposed, to take the risk.
“In light of this research on how people are using Boat woods, we’d like to work with the community and other interested groups to promote responsible behaviour amongst existing users.
“SNH and the CNPA are obliged by law to protect capercaillie and for this reason and the others mentioned in the report, Members by majority supported the planning officers’ recommendation to refuse the application.”
The application by Davall Developments was first considered by the CNPA Planning Committee on 7 January 2011 when it was decided to defer the application to allow the applicant the opportunity to further develop proposals to address the sensitivities surrounding the impact of the development on capercaillie which are protected under European law.
A total of 77 houses including infrastructure and play area were proposed: 45 private units, 5 of these being plots; 16 affordable houses for rent and 16 on a share equity bases. Permission was also sought for the principle of a school site adjacent to the Community Hall.
The planners’ report on 7 January 2011 had recommended refusal of the application for the following reasons:
The planners’ report on 11 November 2011 recommended refusal for the same reasons.
Following deferral in January, the CNPA along with Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), agreed with the applicant a list of criteria that any mitigation proposals would have to meet to be successful.
The applicants carried out survey and analysis of current recreation use of the woodlands. The findings provide data about the way people currently use the woods which, when considered with the likely additional use arising from the proposed development reinforced the need for effective mitigation.
MacKenzie, Bradshaw Environmental Consulting (MBEC), working for the applicant, submitted a report at the end of September 2011 with proposed measures to mitigate the effect of the development. Assessments by CNPA and SNH concluded that the proposals did not give sufficient confidence that disturbance to capercaillie from recreation in the woods can be limited effectively.
SNH maintained its objection because the development is likely to cause disturbance to capercaillie using the adjacent woodland. This is likely to have an adverse effect on capercaillie populations in four nearby Special Protected Areas.
Capercaillie is a species that is protected by the highest levels of European conservation legislation (Schedule 1 European Protected Species). Under this legislation, their habitat is protected by Special Protected Area (SPA) designations at Kinveachy, Craigmore, Cairngorms and Abernethy. Although not designated, the Boat of Garten Wood is an important connection between these areas. 75% of all capercaillie in the UK are found in the woods of Strathspey.
In 2006 an application to build on this site was turned down by the Reporter on appeal due to the risk to capercaillie population.
The site in question was removed as a housing allocation in the Cairngorms National Park Local Plan (2010), following the recommendation by the Reporter in the Local Plan Inquiry. The Reporter considered it to be an over allocation of land for housing taken together with the sensitive environmental nature of the site and its surroundings, specifically in respect of capercaillie.
Following the decision in 2010 to adopt the Local Plan without the allocation, a working group was set up including members of the community, the main landowner, CNPA, Highland Council and SNH to look at housing issues in Boat of Garten, including other potential sites some of which are currently being consulted on in the Cairngorms National Park Local Development Plan Main Issues Report (until 9 December 2011). The CNPA considers this Working Group is central to any solution to the housing issues in Boat of Garten.