Objection to Application Ref. No. 20/01728/FUL

To the Inverness south area planning committee,

I am writing to object to the planning application of Land at TreeTop Stables, Faebuie, Culloden Moor, Inverness. Planning application Ref. No: 20/01728/FUL. My objection is based on a mixture of material issues and heritage impact concerns. This objection is submitted on the 26th May 2020.

I will get to the material concerns I have, but please read the following historical and heritage concerns first. To overlook or undermine these concerns would be a shameful disgrace.

There is no credible historian who would suggest that the area of Treetop was not marched through by part of the front line of the Hanoverian army in battle order, as the Austrians had done in theatres of war against the unpredictable Turks; which is a significant point and one that proves the importance of this area of ground to our understanding of the deployment of cavalry and foot soldiers by Cumberland, learning from his Austrian allies in Flanders, in the build up to battle against an unpredictable Jacobite army. Christopher Duffy has conducted the most significant study of this important build up which is published and available to you all in Fight for a Throne: The Jacobite ’45 Reconsidered (Helion, 2015) pp. 450-464. I have worked closely with Christopher for many years to understand the wider topography and tactical nuances of this battle site and the fact that his work and the work of Tony Pollard, Murray Pittock and others has not even been referenced in any of the application documents is telling of the ignorance of up to date research that we allow in the planning application procedure when it comes to developing such an important heritage site. As always since 2018, I am available to take councillors around the entirety of the battle site to give them an insight at any convenient time. Despite offering this several times, I have yet to be taken up on the offer.

This application is within both the agreed Battlefield Inventory Boundary and the Culloden Muir Conservation Area boundary for good reason: Because it is on the Battlefield of Culloden. The site of Treetop is very close to the position of the second line of the Hanoverian army. There is some academic debate to be had amongst knowledgeable historians who have not been consulted about this area of ground before development is proposed for it, as to the exact movements and positions. We know that part of the front line of the Hanoverian army moved through it; we know that cavalry were in the area and ended up on the right flank of the Hanoverian army at Viewhill and, debatably may have also split from this area or further east to end up moving from the area of the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) visitor centre to outflank the Jacobite army through the Culwhinniac enclosure to Culchunaig – depressingly, this description of manoeuvres now reads like a list of development applications since 2018.

Back to Treetop; the debate to be had is whether part of the second line of the Hanoverian army also moved through the ground in battle order and was positioned west of it; or whether they were positioned on it; or whether they were positioned slightly east of the area proposed for the accommodation.  This is not particularly a great issue, as whichever conclusion is drawn; all of them still define this as very much on Culloden Battlefield. What is certain is that the second line would not have been crammed up against the front line, which is absolutely clear from the way in which Cumberland was able to manoeuvre four regiments into tactical positions whilst Jacobites crashed through his font line on the Hanoverian left flank. Why can’t historians be more precise? Because battles are rarely measured in millimetre accuracy and the fact we are being asked to be so precise is undermining and ignorant of the expertise available and is completely ridiculous when we are talking about a fast-moving tactical deployment over a geophysically diverse battle site. The very worst thing we can do to that battle site if we wish to learn more about it; is cover it with developments.

What we know beyond debate is that the third line of the Hanoverian army was in the area of Treetop.  It was not a huge third line and Pultney’s regiment were brought forward to Viewhill before the battle began to be positioned beside the Royal Scots. Battereau’s regiment were brought forward from the third line to the right flank of the second line – almost certainly through, if not onto the land at Treetop. This left Blakeney’s regiment to the south and perhaps a little further east of the development. Even further east of this was the Hanoverian army’s baggage. We know from eyewitness accounts that Cumberland rode the lines of his army and spoke to every battalion. We also know that Hawley was in command of the left wing and Cumberland positioned himself to the more tactically advantageous position of command on the right of his army – The area around Viewhill and Treetop farm. This is a large area but, in a battle situation on a horse, anyone who thinks Cumberland was immobile and rooted to one position is imbecilic. He was in the area, without doubt. We also know that a soldier in Bligh’s regiment, in the middle of the second line, lost his leg after a cannon ball took it which had been aimed at Cumberland’s position – one of few injuries caused by Jacobite cannon fire.

All of this is proof that Treetop is on the battlefield of Culloden and to even infer or debate that it is not is ridiculous in 2020. It is beyond doubt. HES have suggested that the area of ground at Treetop was boggy because it was flat. This is highly likely, but it is not a certainty and there is absolutely no categorical proof to suggest it could not be moved across. The worst of the boggy ground was southwest of Viewhill, where the charge took place. It would have been useful if anyone had asked the NTS whether it would be possible to have LiDAR experts engaged to look at the LiDAR scan that I commissioned and includes this area to look into this in greater detail; but of course that has not happened – to the ridicule of everyone involved.

Ignorance is inexcusable when discussing developments upon Culloden Battlefield in 2020. It is also inexcusable to claim or infer that sites like this are not on Culloden Battlefield, as has been done in the G.H. Johnston Supporting Policy Statement (4.19, p.23) and HRI Architects Pre-Application Summary and Design Report (1.02, p.1). This must be called out and corrected by Councillors. I will again call on Councillors to call land that is on Culloden Battlefield “on Culloden Battlefield” in all public communications, including social media postings which I have recently been aware of. This is land within the agreed battlefield inventory area. Thankfully the applicant is fully aware that the site is on the battle site and that cannot be claimed otherwise, as I personally informed the applicant of this in great detail in 2019 at the public exhibition held at Treetop stables.

I would have hoped that the applicant would have committed better due diligence to review the documents that have been paid for and to ask the authors for more accurate reports with referencing. This is an important point because inaccuracies like these should be investigated and proper research should be committed when dealing with such an important inventoried battle site. It is a great disappointment that Historic Environment Scotland (HES) have not picked up on this and other inaccuracies in the application documents.

Inaccuracies in the documentation are not confined to the inference of being away from the battle site or out of site of the battle site. There are some pretty ridiculous inaccuracies in the Visual Impact Assessment by Benton Scott-Simmons. One of the most notable is that they do not seem to think the NTS own segments of forestry that they have owned for many years; along with the area of ground that the NTS visitor centre and car park are on. It’s publicly available information and they have failed to research it accurately. If this is inaccurate, what else is inaccurate? Due diligence must be displayed by Councillors and these documents must be reviewed where there is clearly inaccurate data.

There is some interesting use of trees as a supporting argument for giving this application approval in the planning documents. Trees are not permanent and tree cover is not a reason to allow development on a conservation area. As we know from the current Forestry and Land Scotland plans, much of the intervening forestry is due in the very near future to be felled. This completely undermines the applicant’s argument that forestry is an appropriate visual screen.

There is also mention of the “core” battle site. The “core” battle site is the entire battle site; and this battle was not fought in small pockets of hand to hand fighting as non-academic descriptions may confuse us; the battle of Culloden hung on the whole of the tactical deployments and manoeuvres that created the outcome. As we are well aware by now; less than one third of that is owned and protected by the National Trust for Scotland. The conservation area is the only protection for the wider battlefield and must be implemented by the Highland Council to the fullest effect against unnecessary developments such as this.

I would also, again, advise 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 of the build-up; records of; and outcome of the event. This is not the case in many applications, where basic archaeology is regarded as sufficient mitigation for proposals. In this application, a walk-over survey has failed to find anything deemed to be of historical value. Not surprising in the slightest – but are we saying that this means the sound evidence for this being part of the battle site can be ignored? I don’t think so.

It’s very interesting that AOC archaeology were paid in a commercial capacity to conduct the archaeological report, given that they are the authors of the Culloden Muir Conservation Area; a classic development tactic. We are becoming used to these and G.H. Johnston are also clearly well versed in tactical planning manoeuvres too. It is no surprise that G.H. Johnston are involved here as they have been with almost every application on Culloden Battlefield. What disappoints me about the AOC walk-over survey is how basic it is and how the background research is so sadly lacking in quality. There is a very random inclusion of a measurement of “200m” from some action, but no explanation of where from and where to that measurement has been taken; what action it is referring to; and any referencing to show where this information came from. As we have seen here, Treetop is not 200m from the battle site, it is on it.

That basic error of research by AOC is disappointing at the very least and I would encourage Councillors to be very concerned about this lack of academic quality when defining the area of the battle site. The report is also dated September 2016 – four years old. Archaeological research techniques have moved on dramatically since then and there is now a LiDAR scan and various pieces of historical research available which were not at that time. Are we happy to base a decision as important as this on an outdated and old archaeological report, given that there is so much more historical information available that proves this site to be one of importance?

The proposal for holiday lodges, a spa and a restaurant at Treetop is completely disrespectful to the battle site, the conservation area, its integrity and its conservation. Commercialism and conservationism are at odds in the Highlands at the moment and have been since at least 2018. The income generation on Drummossie Muir is substantial already and rather than increasing businesses on the site, an argument must be made that income already generated should be ring-fenced to be kept in the Highlands and to support the conservation of the site. The battle site will be damaged if the Treetops development goes ahead, but so will the opportunity for the Highland council to make sincere efforts to drive Highland tourism that sustains conservation and jobs in the Highlands in the future. It will also undermine the Highland Council’s conservation messages and support of Highland heritage and culture drastically.

The proposed development will also bring dangerous levels of traffic to roads which are already at peak levels during tourist season. It is argued that the road is not dangerous and there are a small number of vehicles using it. Are we supposed to completely ignore the fact that the survey was conducted between the 11th September 2017 and the 24th September 2017? This is one of the quietest periods of the year after the summer tourism season has come to an end and the October holidays are yet to begin. As manager of Culloden, this was the time of year when adjustments were being made and recuperation was beginning at the end of the coach and cruise season. This transport survey is not applicable to the season when both this proposed business and the area in general will be at its busiest. That must be considered. At the height of summer Culloden Road and the junction at the Keppoch Inn simply cannot stand up to additional traffic, particularly of the levels required to run a business like this. In managing Culloden Battlefield, I am also very aware that road maintenance and gritting of the B9006 is an issue and an increase of traffic is an unnecessary increase in roadwork requirements, maintenance requirements and risks to the public.

The development at Viewhill (Cairnfields) was passed after comments were made about the danger of the movement of school children as pedestrians under the railway bridge at Balloch. From my memory it was decided that, were there more houses, work would be required on this. What is proposed here will lead to pedestrians children included coming to and from Balloch. The problem commented on is now before you; so who is going to pay for the additional work for transport and pedestrian safety that was highlighted as being necessary by Councillors in the debate about Viewhill?

The infrastructure is simply not there to allow this development. This will lead to an addition to the backlog of maintenance needs, as well as an inexcusable increase of risk to the public. I wholly support the Council’s publicised aims to support sensible and necessary development and conservation of the Culloden Muir area and this decision is a prime example of an opportunity to make a very positive signal of those intentions by rejecting this application.

In another objection comment, it has been raised that an industrial shed has been erected on site at Treetop. As far as I am able to research, there has been no planning consent granted for this. This is presumably the same industrial structure that is described in the Pre-Application Summary and Design Report which is “A steel framed and profiled steel clad industrial building with large external plant and equipment storage” (1.03, p.1). Whatever it is, it clearly needs to be investigated by planning Councillors and Officers and, if there is any evidence that a building has been developed without planning permission, it must be investigated fully.

I make my case on several grounds for this proposal to be rejected:

1) It does not suit the historical importance and integrity of the surrounding area.

2) It brings dangers which should be avoided.

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.

4) It will destroy future information and data gathering which must be protected by our generation.

5) The necessity of the development for the local area is negligible, as is the support for other local businesses the development application claims it will give.

6) If absolutely necessary, a development like this would be better positioned elsewhere in the locality out with the inventory and conservation area boundaries where all of the above factors could be minimised. The applicant and the applicant’s family own such land and I would suggest they should investigate the potential of this development being sited elsewhere.

7) Tree cover is being used to support the application, but this is not permanent, not owned by the development owners and is not a reasonable mitigation for the impact the development will have. It is also clear that this forestry is in current felling plans and will be thinned and potentially completely deforested in coming years. It is also commercial forestry that was originally planted in the 1930s and 1950s and is not part of the historic landscape.

8) There is reason to investigate whether the applicant has erected a building without planning consent.

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. We have seen development applications fall onto the desk of the Inverness South Area Planning Committee at Viewhill; Treetops; Muirfield (shed); Culchunaig; Muirfield (house); and now Treetops (again) since 2018. If this application is given the go-ahead, we will see more. Highland Council must consider whether it wishes to protect the integrity of conservation at Culloden Battlefield. That choice is clearly now on the shoulders of those Council Officers and Councillors who will be debating this application.

I hope that my comments are helpful towards a sensible decision and that, if I can be of any assistance, the Highland Council will contact me directly. I intend to be available for this purpose.

Yours, with growing concern,

Andrew Grant McKenzie MA (Hons) FSA Scot

Highland Historian: Heritage Consultancy & Bespoke Tour Guiding

Former Property Manager of Culloden Battlefield and Visitor Centre (The National Trust for Scotland)

One thought on “Objection to Application Ref. No. 20/01728/FUL”

  1. I hope you are successful! If letter writing or anything would help, please say. Many of us here in America would support this endeavor.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.