Objection to Planning Application 20/00967/FUL on Culloden Battlefield

To the Inverness south area planning committee (Highland Council),

I am writing to object to the planning application: 20/00967/FUL | Erection of house | Land 730M NW of King’s Stables Cottage Westhill Inverness

The developer describes their farm as a “Small family run farm on the edge of Culloden battlefield” on Facebook, so we cannot claim they are unaware of the site they intend to develop, as other recent development applicants have.

As you already know, I was made redundant by the National Trust for Scotland as Property Manager of Culloden Battlefield in 2018, and had worked there since 2008. My experiences in the management, conservation and academic understanding of the battle site as a whole give me an insight that I hope will not be overlooked or ignored, which unfortunately has been the case with historical information regarding many of the applications on the battle site.

I will outline some historical elements, but I will focus on material planning objections; knowing as I do that these matters do not come into discussions anywhere near as regularly as they should due to the planning process being entirely based on material planning considerations regardless of the fact we are dealing with such an important and significant historic site, which is currently being developed at a greater rate than it has ever been developed in history.

To be absolutely clear, here are my key material objections to the development:

  1. It is unnecessary – the recent agricultural shed was built to securely house machinery and the developer’s home is not far away. An additional house is not necessary.
  2. The additional road junction onto the B9006 will be dangerous – this area of the B9006 (I travelled it daily for 10 years) is already a dangerous corner and additional traffic coming onto the road at this point will add to the dangers.
  3. It is completely at odds with the policies outlined in the Culloden Muir Conservation Area published by Highland Council in 2016.
  4. The archaeological report is inadequate and inaccurate and has missed significant areas of knowledge and has ignored items previously removed. The mapping of the lines alone is completely incorrect and does not have any justification based on research. This MUST be addressed! I will be happy to advise. The sources referenced include no recent historical research and virtually no historical analysis at all.
  5. It is proposed on a greenfield site within a conservation area and a battlefield inventory – unless there is a necessity for it, which there isn’t, it should be rejected.

I trust that the NTS will object strongly against this development, but as the planning committee are aware, the NTS view of conservation at Culloden has changed significantly and their efforts have reduced since 2016. At that time I was still Property Manager, and I had put a very strong and affordable case for the purchase of land close to this development when it was available to the directors of that organisation. The response from them was that it would not be done for conservational reasons and due to it not being a commercial project; the plan I created to purchase large areas of Blackpark and Viewhill farms was stopped.

This is incredibly important, because if the NTS does not object, it is a continuation of a dereliction of duty to work towards conservation of historic sites all over Scotland, regardless of direct ownership, and evidence that the council must not rely on their opinion against developments as it has been doing in all recent applications. By this, I am referring to the regular phrases in the discussions before voting on applications such as “if the NTS doesn’t object, how can we prevent it” (not verbatim and said in the discussions over Viewhill and Treetops) and similar.

Instead, knowledgeable and expert advice – particularly historical – must be regarded as just as important as the objections of NTS and HES once were by the planning committee. I do, however, remain hopeful that they will object.

My objection is based on a mixture of points, but the material issues are clear; there is an increase of risk, particularly in relation to the additional junction at a particularly dangerous area of the B9006 which has already seen crashes in the past. The access road also cuts through a known area of the battle site and will destroy any future chance of categorically locating the Culloden Park Enclosure’s south east corner, where the last firing cannon was silenced with intense fire at the end of the battle. It was also the only geographically definite location of a Jacobite line, being the definite placement of the left flank of the front line. We must consider this area of the utmost importance in terms of any possibility of accurately mapping the battle site in the future. The walls in this location featured in a contemporary sketch by Paul Sandby.

The possibility of locating this area has already been damaged by the agricultural shed which has destroyed a known area of the battle site previously. If we were to be able to locate this corner, it would be one of the only definite geographical locators on the entire battle site and, from it; many other areas of the battle site would be able to be measured. It is VASTLY important that we do not ignorantly destroy this area!

The application also risks a damaging and irreversible impact on the area’s environmental conservation. This is the first development proposed on a Greenfield site since the introduction of the Culloden Muir Conservation Area in 2016. If this development, within a conservation area boundary and a battlefield inventory boundary on a greenfield site goes ahead, the “development floodgates” I warned of from 2013-2016 and we have seen come true will be a mere trickle by comparison. You must consider what precedent your recent decisions on Culloden Battlefield developments has already set; and what the decision on this one will set.

Since 2014 I worked with Highland Council to implement the Culloden Muir Conservation Area, which must be adhered to, but as a result of the Scottish Government reporter decision at Viewhill, this has previously been undermined, both before and during our discussions towards implementation; and afterwards. I would fully expect this proposal to be rejected in line with the Culloden Muir Conservation Area. This is yet another opportunity for Highland Council to stand up for conservation of a nationally and internationally important heritage site.

The very reason that Highland Council requested the Conservation Area was because, after I had discussions with the planning team about the mistakes made by the Scottish Reporter in their decision on Viewhill which brought unwanted pressure to Highland Council, it was realised that the area needed to be far better protected.

The Muirfield application before you now is clearly in conflict with the aims of the council to ensure that developers could not purchase land, put an agricultural building on it and then within a few years apply for luxury housing. This is exactly what has happened here. On the face of it, this is entirely contrary to the Culloden Muir Conservation Area’s raison d’etre.

I make my case on several grounds from the policies in the Culloden Muir Conservation Area for this proposal to be rejected:

  1. The proposal goes against policy 1 of the Conservation Area. It is not “for the repair, reuse and conversion of a redundant traditional building within the Battlefield and is of a design and finish sensitive to the architectural design, scale and finish of the original building.” I would push for the council to have a “presumption against development” which is policy number 1. The necessity of the development for the local area is completely unnecessary.
  2. Also in policy 1, it states “The design, scale, mass and detailing of any replacement building should be appropriate to the site and its setting and should reflect the traditional features of the Conservation Area.” This is completely not the case in this proposal and would be a case for ridicule if the Highland Council gave this proposal permission. However, this was also the case at Viewhill.
  3. It will destroy conservation efforts which have been ongoing for generations and ignores the conservation area and the reasons for it being implemented by Highland Council. Policy 2 in the Culloden Muir Conservation Area states “Proposals for new development within the designated Conservation Area must demonstrate that the development will either preserve or enhance the character and appearance of the Conservation Area.” This development is completely contrary to the character and appearance of the Conservation Area that I was an advisor to. It would make me feel that my work was being made to be a joke and that we are no longer putting any interest in conservation at Culloden Battlefield at the levels that truly make a difference if this is to go ahead. It will destroy future information and data gathering which must be protected by our generation.
  4. Policy 3 of the Conservation Area states: “All new development proposals must be supported by a fully detailed design statement clearly demonstrating how the development proposals will either preserve or enhance the character and appearance of the Culloden Muir Conservation Area.  It is expected that design statements will take account of all existing buildings, known historic environment assets and the natural landscape and its key features, including trees. Guidance on preparing a design statement is contained in Planning Advice Note 68 (PAN 68).” The known historic environment is much more detailed than any of the recent proposals, including this one have had the inclination to research. Until proper research is done, the research put into any development is inadequate. Have they even consulted the LiDAR scan? That would be a very small beginning to the research that should have been done.
  5. Policy 4… Again; the research is out there and it is available. It has not been consulted in this development and it has not been used to the extent that would define ‘proper’ research. “All proposals for new development must be supported by detailed landscape visualisations which will clearly show the visual impact of the proposals in respect of any recorded or known historic environment assets within the Conservation Area.  These visualisations shall be produced in accordance with an agreed standard.” Why, then, do the visualisations not include any visualisations from the Prisoner’s Stone and the Culloden Battlefield Trail?
  6. Policy 5 states: “Highland Council may require pre-determination archaeological investigation for any new development proposal that requires groundbreaking within the Conservation Area. The Council will notify applicants where archaeological work is required to support an application, and the scope of such works, on a caseby-case basis. Highland Council will resist development where there are significant archaeological implications.” Let me, once again, push for proper and holistic archaeological research. This should be a given in a Conservation Area. It has not been done and the GUARD report is inadequate and incorrect. If the council are minded to consider this or any other developments, it must come with clauses that are over and above the standard. Archaeological work must be full and as in depth as current technology will allow, paid for by the developers, before a decision on the proposal is made. Historians must be contacted to give an overview which is taken and considered seriously before proposals are granted permission. The LiDAR scan owned by the National Trust for Scotland must be reviewed and analysed by LiDAR experts, archaeologists and historians. This scan covers the whole conservation area. I would suggest that all of these things should be done anyway, regardless of the consideration of proposed developments. Without these things having been done, the decision is being made without the relevant information to make an informed decision given the potential repercussions.
  7. Policy 8 states: “There will be a presumption against any development within the Conservation Area which is likely to have adverse impact on the setting of important historic environment assets or the wider cultural landscape as identified in the designation.” This is Culloden Battlefield. There is a significant argument that the course of Highland, Scottish, British, European and World history was changed as a result of the actions which took place on this battle site. This development will definitely have an adverse impact on an important historic AND cultural landscape.
  8. Policy 10 states: “Where Highland Council is minded to support new development proposals within the Conservation Area the materials and external finishes must be of traditional and natural materials to ensure harmony with the surrounding natural landscape of the Conservation Area.” I cannot fathom how this can include this proposal.

GUARD who were brought in to do the incorrect archaeological report is NOT the academic Glasgow University Archaeological Research Division (also known as GUARD). That academic body includes Dr Tony Pollard who has been at the forefront of archaeological research at Culloden Battlefield. In his book Culloden: The History and Archaeology of the Last Clan Battle (Pen & Sword, 2009), he outlines his intent to return to this area and the importance of the south east corner of the Culloden Park Enclosure. This book was not even referenced in the archaeological report.

The GUARD brought in for the report is a completely separate commercial archaeology company, and clearly not a very academic one in terms of the lack of background research.

In terms of the archaeological report by GUARD – I must draw the council’s attention to some important details that are lacking in this report. One councillor is already very aware of the fact that items have been found in the area of the previous development of the agricultural shed and this proposed development. Regardless of the size or the value of these finds, it is evidence which supports the ongoing historical research.

Unless there is a complete amnesty of items taken and not reported by metal detectorists, we will never have a full archaeological understanding of this area. This is why historical knowledge is so important here. We know that the last firing gun was somewhere in this vicinity and we know that this item was taken away by souvenir hunters at a later date. This was an area of active combat.

The GUARD report does not discuss or research these key matters. It also makes no effort to take into account the LiDAR scan which I commissioned in 2015 and was done in 2016. This is perhaps understandable as this belongs to the NTS and, despite the number of development applications, has not been released to experts for research. Until that happens, there should be no further developments allowed in the conservation area as this is highly likely to offer insights which will lead to further historical and archaeological research and knowledge.

The archaeological report puts very inaccurate information into publication, including a dreadfully inaccurate map of the battle lines; and has disregarded historical research in the referencing of the report. It is completely ignorant of recent historical and archaeological work that has happened in the vicinity. This is completely ridiculous and must be highlighted and addressed.

When such a key document is so flawed, this must be something of great concern to the planning committee. I am available to discuss this in detail.

Effectively, what I am saying is that continuing to allow developments is like seeing a red traffic light and driving through it without wearing a seatbelt or pushing the brake, despite having them available to us – we have the knowledge, we have the potential for more understanding, but we are still being ignorant.

I would advise strongly that both historical and archaeological knowledge must be combined, rather than just archaeological knowledge being requested. Archaeology tells us what was dropped and left behind; history tells us what happened based on knowledge. This is not the case in many applications, where basic archaeology is regarded as sufficient mitigation for proposals. In this application, that must not be the case. It simply cannot go ahead for a multitude of material planning and conservational reasons. Without these things having been done, the decision is being made without the relevant information to make an informed decision given the potential repercussions.

I ask, sincerely, that this proposal is rejected and that the conservation of one of our most important cultural assets is strengthened by a strong signal from Highland Council that we must protect our heritage.

I am available to be contacted for further discussion.

Best wishes,

Andrew Grant McKenzie MA (Hons) FSA Scot


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