COUNCILLORS were left feeling “hopeless” this week after Scottish Government guidelines stopped them from turning down plans for hundreds of houses even though schools serving the new estates will be full before they are built.
More than 200 houses in south Inverness were approved at Tuesday’s south planning applications committee, despite councillors strenuously arguing that surrounding schools were bursting at the seams.
Furious councillors say the problem lies with planning law which prevents authorities from refusing a planning application on grounds of there being a shortage of school places.
This is because building firms give councils pre-agreed sums of money, called developer contributions, which are meant to cover the cost of school extensions or other similar infrastructure.
Inverness South Councillor Carolyn Caddick claimed these cash hand-outs hardly covered the cost of portable classrooms - and never came close to footing the bill for new schools.
But the council’s planning officer Simon Hindson insisted developer contributions would be used to fund much-needed school extensions and said land had been secured to build new schools with work well-underway to “address capacity issues”.
The fury erupted after Cllr Caddick and her fellow ward member, Independent Jim Crawford, watched as planning applications for 49 new houses at Balvonie Braes in Milton of Leys and 82 homes near Culduthel Road, Slackbuie, were granted at Tuesday’s meeting.
A further 102 homes were rubber-stamped for Parks Farm, Wester Inshes, on appeal by a Scottish Government reporter, months after Highland councillors turned it down.
The Culduthel housing development will end up with 200 houses in total. The land was originally earmarked for just 24 houses leaving space for shops and community facilities.
The houses will spring up at a time when school places at Milton of Leys Primary are capped and projected school roles for Cauldeen Primary, which caters for Slackbuie, show it will be over-capacity within three years.
After the meeting, Cllr Caddick said: “I felt really hopeless today. They say we get developer contributions but we’ll be lucky if that buys us one of the demountable classrooms and it’s whole new schools we need.”
Planning officials said the developments were acceptable because improvements were planned for roads and drainage and some of the homes would be affordable.
Mr Hindson, planning officer, said developer contributions of £2013 per house for primary education and £1900 for secondary would be used to fund extensions at Cauldeen Primary School and Inverness Royal Academy. He said: “It will be demountable, temporary provision but we have secured land for schools elsewhere. Our education team is doing work in the wider area to address capacity issues.”
Plans approved for community facilities in Milton of Leys, including a nursery, care home and sports pitch, were more welcome. Cllr Caddick was “absolutely delighted to see this coming forward”.