Campaigners who opposed a planned housing development in the Cairngorm National Park say its latest rejection is the “last throw of the dice” for the proposal.
Aberdeen-based CastleGlen Properties (Scotland) has lost its appeal against the refusal of an application to build 20 houses at School Wood in Nethy Bridge.
It was turned down by the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) last year and an appeal against the decision has now been dismissed by Scottish Government Reporter Rosie Leven.
Site removed from local development plan
The site was allocated for housing in a previous local development plan in 2015. However, it was removed in the current plan, which was adopted in March this year.
Objectors said the development would result in the loss of irreplaceable ancient woodland which supports rare wildlife. But the developer said the trees have been felled and re-established, suggesting that the site was “not exceptional”.
The Reporter said Scottish Government policy on the control of woodland removal (CWR) states that woodland in general should only be removed where it would achieve significant and clearly defined additional public benefits.
“There is a strong presumption against removing certain types of woodland, including ancient semi-natural woodland. I therefore find that the proposals would be contrary to the CWR policy.”
Gavin Miles, head of strategic planning at the CNPA, said: “We welcome the Reporter’s decision to refuse the appeal, recognising the nature conservation and recreational value of this site, which has been removed from the newly adopted Cairngorms National Park Local Development Plan.”
The decision was also welcomed by one of the objectors, Woodland Trust Scotland. Spokesman George Anderson said: “Over decades this ancient wood has gone through various owners and had multiple planning applications.
“This latest one was rejected by the national park last year and has now been rejected on appeal to the Scottish Government.
“In the meantime the national park brought in a new local plan which should make building on School Wood impossible. This latest application was therefore a last throw of the dice for development on the site.”
‘War has been won for good’
He added: “We are absolutely delighted and we raise a glass tonight to local campaigners who have fought for this wood over many years. It is through their tenacity that there is a wood still here to protect. They have fought battle after battle, and now the war has been won for good.
“Ancient woodland is irreplaceable and there is so little of it left. It should not be beyond us as a society to find suitable places to build houses without losing the last of our ancient woods.”
Dr Gus Jones, of the Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group, added: “We welcome the decision and hope it is the start of a new chapter in the long history of School Wood which is such an important asset to the forest village of Nethy Bridge.”
CastleGlen had proposed that 35% of the housing would be affordable – above the 25% required in housing policy – in an area where there is a shortage of affordable accommodation.
However, the Reporter said the appeal site is not allocated for housing and is outwith the Nethy Bridge settlement boundary.
‘Extremely disappointed at the outcome’
She added: “While I accept that the proposal would provide welcome additional affordable housing, I conclude that there is an effective supply of housing land and that the appeal site is not required at this stage to meet an immediate need for housing land in the area.”
The developer also said it aimed to provide wider community benefit including a new woodland north-east of Nethy Bridge Hotel with easy access, benches and views; and the formalisation of an area south of Abernethy primary to be used for outdoor learning.
A CastleGlen spokesman said: “We’re naturally extremely disappointed at the appeal outcome.
“This location was originally in the Local Plan and the decision is a loss to the National Park area of family homes, plus critically-needed affordable housing, which comprised 35 per cent of our application.
“This development could have been an asset to sustain local services in and around Nethy Bridge. We’ll now take time to consider our options.”