An affordable housing development in Drumnadrochit was unanimously rejected by members at a planning meeting today.
The motion to reject was brought by local councillor David Fraser and seconded by ward colleague and council leader Margaret Davidson.
Both councillors said the development was not supported by the community.
The rejection follows a well-supported partnership between Highland Housing Alliance (HHA) and local community groups. If agreed, the application would have delivered 15 new affordable homes in the village.
However, the plan racked up five formal objections including one from the local community council.
So what went wrong?
The debate at the planning committee centred on the visual impact of the development.
HHA proposed building 15 two-bed flats spread across 2-storey and 2.5 storey buildings, with parking.
These were planned for a prominent corner site west of the A82 roundabout on Balmacaan Road.
Planning officials recommended the application for approval, highlighting the need for affordable housing in Drumnadrochit and stating that other tall buildings can be found in the village.
However, David Fraser said the area already had sufficient affordable housing – the local development plan had anticipated 39 and yet 48 have been delivered with a further 23 in the proposed Springfield development.
Mr Fraser went on to say that the 2.5-storey buildings would dominate the corner site. The visual impact had been highlighted to HHA as a concern during the pre-planning application.
Mr Fraser urged members not to make a “rash decision” before bringing a motion to reject, stating the proposal was “incongruous and overbearing”.
A house not a monolith
Speaking in support of her ward colleague, Mrs Davidson said she could not recall the last time she went against a proposal for affordable housing.
Mrs Davidson said the village had come together to share their concerns about the visual impact of the development, and she was disappointed that HHA had pressed ahead with their original plan. “We want a house and not a monolith,” she said.
Mrs Davidson asked committee members to reject the application, so that HHA and the community could work together on a more acceptable solution.
If an appropriate design could not be agreed, the council leader hinted that a different developer could be found.
The motion to reject was unanimously supported, dealing a shock blow to a project that had previously enjoyed local support.
The numbers didn’t stack up
HHA had purchased the site with the help of the Highland Council via the Scottish Government’s Town Centre Fund.
The funding allowed for the demolition of the former Scotmid building, with plans to develop the site in partnership with Glen Urquhart Community Council.
However, the project was challenging from the off. The purchase price and insurance costs meant HHA needed a high volume of flats to recoup its investment.
Ultimately, the proposal submitted to planning was not considered a fitting development by the community that had once been a partner.
Mr Fraser had been chairman of Glen Urquhart Community Council at the time, an interest he stated during committee today.
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Fraser said: “Despite our best efforts, the community couldn’t put together a package of funding with appropriate insurance safeguards in the timescales provided.”
The decision to oppose the development was not a straight forward one, but Mr Fraser said: “I felt what came forward was too big, and inappropriate for the location. My job as a councillor is to represent the local view, and that’s what we do to the best of our ability.”
With the application rejected, councillors urged HHA to come back to the table and negotiate an alternative way forward.
However, HHA chief executive Gail Mathieson said the decision was a missed opportunity.
“We are deeply disappointed that our application has been refused by the planning committee, particularly when it was recommended for approval by officers,” said Ms Mathieson. “Our proposals were carefully and thoughtfully designed in consultation with key stakeholders to deliver a best-in-class development that would have transformed derelict space into much needed new homes.
“It is recognised that we have a housing shortage and that more needs to be done to provide high quality homes – this site would have been an excellent option and we believe that to refuse our application is a missed opportunity.
“We will now take the time to review our options in more detail.”