A devastated Moray campaigner has accused the Scottish Government of ignoring local views to meet housing targets by approving a development – despite more than 250 objections.
Yesterday, Holyrood announced it had overturned a council decision to block plans from Springfield Properties to build 22 affordable houses on the south side of Hopeman.
Last night, furious locals said the move undermined local democracy and repeated their concerns that larger developments will now follow.
Springfield insisted the houses are essential to prevent people from being forced to relocate due to the high cost of living in their hometown, and described the government’s decision as “sensible”.
But Carmen Gillies, who lives next to the site on Forsyth Street, said she was “gobsmacked” by the decision, which she fears could lead to “urban sprawl” extending from the village.
She said: “On the one hand the Scottish Government wants to empower us to build strong communities but then they go and totally ignore us.
“The council understood our concerns but the government has just come in like a big brother bully and overturned it without talking to us.
“All they’ve done is looked at the targets for affordable housing and seen we’re short of that in Moray.”
Proposals for the south side of Hopeman were first proposed by Springfield more than 10 years ago as part of a long-term vision to build 700 houses – which was eventually reduced to 66.
Those plans were eventually thrown out by the Scottish Government but fears have persisted they could resurface.
In his findings, Scottish Government reporter Philip Barton said he could not make a decision based on potential developments – but stressed his decision should not be considered a “precedent”.
Heldon and Laich councillor James Allan said the homes would have a devastating impact on the rural view from the village.
He added: “The residents have campaigned against this proposal for years and feel very passionately about it.
“The council has done its best for them and it seems very unfair that a developer can repeatedly come back to the council until they eventually manage to overturn our decision in the face of overwhelming public opposition.”
Moray Council’s planning committee chairman, Marc Macrae, added: “The refusal received unanimous support from committee members. This decision does little to promote the function of local elected members.”
Mr Barton disagreed with the council’s decision the houses would not fit the character of the area but added an extra condition to ensure all the homes could be classed as “affordable”.
He said: “The unique circumstances of this case include the contribution that the proposal would make towards addressing an urgent unmet need for affordable housing across the Elgin housing market area.”
Springfield already had separate plans approved to create a ditch to guard against potential flooding at the site.
A spokeswoman added: “In taking his unemotional, impartial view of this proposal the reporter has shown it for what it is – the sensible provision of 22 affordable homes where they are needed. Families that would have had to permanently relocate will now be able to stay local and live in Hopeman.
“More affordable housing is much needed across the whole country. It is painful to see locals forced to move out because they cannot afford to live where they are from.”