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Objectors seek to have unauthorised Black Isle skateboard area removed

A picture of the controversial skate park
A picture of the controversial skate park

For Taran Campbell, building a private skateboarding bowl beside his house has been a long-standing dream.

His neighbours argue it’s been more like a nightmare and they want the Highland Council to demolish it.

Next week councillors will decide if it stays or goes.

What’s the issue?

Mr Campbell, a skateboard coach who helped create the Highland Skate Parks Association, built the bowl at his home in Drumsmittal, North Kessock without planning permission.

The work was reported to the council in August 2021. It says a formal notice was issued advising Mr Campbell to halt the development until permission was granted.

The authority states despite repeated requests, no application was submitted until June 2022.

However, officials now recommend the council’s north planning applications committee grants approval retrospectively when it considers the case on December 6.

Objectors say the development is not in keeping with the rural area

A number of neighbours, as well as Knockbain Community Council and Friends of the Earth: Inverness and Ross, have objected.

They argue the 492 square metre development was completed in April and is an unauthorised noisy eyesore not in keeping with a rural area.

One resident fears for her animal refuge and says she feels ignored by the developer and council.

The objectors have also raised concerns over the “injustice” of retrospective planning.

It is claimed drone pictures showing the scale of the development were ‘redacted’ in council papers online.

A skate bowl or park?

Mr Campbell says he has faced a “wave of false accusations” and many “totally exaggerated or fabricated statements” from objectors.

He argues the development is a bowl, used by one person at a time, rather than a skate park which has multiple users, and is for his private use.

It will be hidden from all outside his property by a grass bund wrapped around it and an acoustic fence will reduce noise levels.

Retired teacher Sandra Dingwall, who lives next to the development, said it is not appropriate in the rural setting.

“The unauthorised skate park development, combined with the proposed bund and acoustic fence, is ludicrous and egregious in relation to the surrounding natural rural environment”.

She added: “I am particularly concerned that, by flaunting planning regulations, the applicant has been allowed to complete extensive work to a point where it can be used without limitation or restriction.”

Ms Dingwall says the recommendation to approve the plan retrospectively is “horrendous”.

“It’s been a year of fiasco. The planning authority has handled this appallingly. It could have been stopped when the breach was reported.

“Both (Mr Campbell) and the council seem to have completely discounted the fact there is a neighbouring property. It feels like we’ve been swept under the carpet.

“This whole thing of retrospective planning is horrendous. It’s totally unjust, totally undemocratic.”

She added: “There has been no respect or recognition of my presence or the presence of my animals.

“I’m beginning to feel the future of my smallholding as an animal refuge is in jeopardy.”

‘Considerable stress’

In its objection, Knockbain Community Council says it “takes a very dim view of the methods adopted by the applicant, in that we consider the retrospective planning application process is being abused”.

It says there has been considerable stress caused to neighbours and to livestock and wild animals.

It considers the scale and nature of the development has potential to be used for commercial purposes.

“And given the example of the applicant’s attitude to planning thus far, the nature of the applicant’s business interests and his connection to the skate boarding industry, it is our considered opinion that there is intent.

“In conclusion, we would urge Highland Council to refused permission for this development and moved to have it demolished in early course.”

The skate bowl under construction

Mr Campbell says both environmental health officials and police have said noise levels are acceptable.

“My neighbour’s (and her cohorts’) accusations are not based on the reality of the situation.

“Their wide-ranging, aggrandised complaints are aiming to remove the bowl due to unrealistic expectations of utter silence from my property.”

He said planning regulations for skateboard features in private property is a “grey area”. Before starting the project, he consulted with an architect who advised that planning would not be required.

“Had I built this within my garden ground and adjusted the design slightly this would have been the case.

‘Not aware planning permission was needed’

“I wasn’t aware the project would need planning consent until the project was well underway.

“In hindsight, my decision to build a more considered ‘sunken’ bowl in the least impactful location (my field) has led me into this predicament.

“The question here is not ‘is a skate bowl allowed?’ but ‘does this skate bowl affect public amenity?

“The answer to which we’ve had clearly confirmed with the environmental health officers assessment as no.”

Mr Campbell denied a stop notice was issued: “I never had a ‘concrete’ instruction to stop works and thought that I was able to continue.

“Only once I spoke with planning in April did they ask to pause works until planning was approved.

The planning authority has handled this appallingly

Sandra Dingwall

“I accept that I misunderstood my obligations after the conversation with planning in August and that work should have stopped whilst the planning application was processed.

“There were only ever a few weeks work in August then a few weeks in March/April.

He added: “My love for skateboarding is no secret and my dream has always been to build my own private skate bowl to my exact specifications.”

He said the bowl takes up less space than a tennis court and under 20% of his field.

“Inverness and the surrounding area have multiple skate parks which I’m incredibly proud to have been a part of creating.

“However I want to be able to practice my sport without distraction or interference from the wide range of users that visit busy skateparks.”

Facility ‘for personal use only’

He said he offered as a condition of planning to have the bowl for personal use only.

“It wouldn’t make much business sense to champion the construction of ‘free to use’ outdoor parks around the area if I somehow intended to charge people to either use mine or for lessons there.”

A report to the planning committee says: “It is unfortunate that works have been carried out to this point without the benefit of planning permission or seeking the advice of the service beforehand.

“Further, the continued working on the skatepark itself, after being advised that permission was required, has caused frustration.

“Whilst the planning authority can understand and sympathise with the frustration that this has caused for residents, it is, however incumbent on the planning authority to consider the application as submitted and not the manner in which it was undertaken.”

Permission is being sought for the development retrospectively

It adds: “While it is accepted that the skatepark is large….given the mitigation which is proposed to both screen the development and address potential issues around noise, it is not considered that the application is unacceptable on the grounds of visual amenity or impact to the landscape as it will not be publicly visible in its entirety from anywhere other than within the applicants own land.”

A council spokesman said committee members will have the opportunity to examine and discuss all elements of the application including comments from objectors, before making a decision.

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