THE battle may have been won – but the war continues.
Protestors campaigning against building 16 houses a stone’s throw from Culloden Battlefield were given an 11th hour reprieve on Tuesday, thanks to Highland councillors, and were back out in force yesterday – this time at Holyrood.
The latest chapter in the fight took place 48 hours after a protest at Highland Council headquarters in Inverness.
Supporters and members of the Group to Stop Development at Culloden (GSDC) made their feelings felt before councillors discussed, then deferred, planning permission on the proposal, calling on developer Kirkwood Homes to come up with a more sensitive design for the homes, given their proximity to the historic site.
Members of the south planning applications committee said they do not want the houses at Viewhill, just north of the battlefield, to be built at all but the application has already been approved by the Scottish Government’s appeals department, leaving councillors with authority only over the design of the buildings.
GSDC protestors were armed with a petition signed by 73,000 people, but the most councillors could do was defer the decision.
Campaigners say the bodies of troops fighting in the Battle of Culloden in 1746 may be buried under the site itself, as well as the battlefield and that the area should be protected as a sacred war grave.
The battle of Culloden resulted in the Jacobites under Prince Charles Edward Stuart being routed by the Duke of Cumberland’s government forces. More than 1000 were killed, mostly on the Jacobite side.
The council’s principal planning officer Ken McCorquodale said archaeological works will be carried out during ground preparation and said building may be delayed if anything of significance is found.
But councillors vented their frustration that the project was going ahead, after they rejected it in 2013 – a decision which was overturned by a Scottish Government appointed reporter.
Inverness South councillor Andrew Jarvie hit out at the appeals department, saying: "I think it’s disgraceful how we have arrived at this scenario, it highlights just how bad the Scottish Government reporters are at respecting the views and feelings of local people and councillors across the country.
"I’m deeply uncomfortable with this. This quite clearly isn’t traditional [design] and for me it’s not acceptable."
Fellow Inverness South councillor Carolyn Caddick agreed, adding that there will be watchful eyes on the archaeological digs.
"We are between a rock and a hard place here," she said.
"The decision has already been made but I think we should be challenging the Scottish Government. Having a reporter come here and tell us what we should be doing in our own area really grates.
"All eyes will be watching the archeological developments and there will be enough people to police it."
Under planning law, councillors must have strong reasons to refuse approval and link them to policies, otherwise applicants can appeal, resulting in a lot of expense for the council.
Councillor Andrew Baxter, who represents Lochaber said he would consider refusing the application if not for the legal consequences, likening the appeal reporter to the Duke of Cumberland.
"He has out-witted us, out-gunned us and tied our hands behind our backs.
"We are forced to determine an application, based only on style and design, that we don’t actually want any part of," he said, to applause from the public gallery.
"I certainly do not want my fingerprints on this application."
Inverness Central councillor Richard Laird said the only houses suitable for the battlefield would be "no houses at all".
After a lengthy debate councillors agreed to defer the decision on the basis that the timber cladding and pitched roofs of the houses are not sensitive to the surroundings. The developer will be given the opportunity to re-submit the application, with or without changes.
Leading campaigner George Kempik praised councillors’ efforts to find a solution.
"It’s a better result than we thought we would get when we came here today," he said.
"I feel for the councillors because I know their hands are tied."
"Our focus will now shift to the Scottish Government to try to get them to intervene with a way to stop this development.
"We knew today was about the design rather than the houses themselves but that is not something we are willing to accept.
"This gives us more time to get the reporter to look at it again and hopefully have the decision overturned."
A spokesman from Kirkwood Homes said: "Today’s decision by the south planning applications committee to defer is extremely disappointing. However, we will discuss this outcome with the planning department to understand the specific reasons for this.
"The proposal fully complies with the conditions of the original planning consent. Throughout this process we have worked alongside Highland Council and relevant authorities, and will continue to do so until a conclusion is reached."
A Scottish Government spokesman said: "After refusal of planning permission by Highland Council and in keeping with the vast majority of appeals to them, Scottish ministers appointed an independent reporter to determine an appeal against the decision of Highland Council to refuse permission, for the demolition of agricultural buildings to redevelop 16 residential plots plus ancillary works at Viewhill, Inverness.
"In a small number of cases the reporter does not decide the appeal but submits a report with a recommendation to the Scottish ministers.
"The current applications remain before Highland Council for determination as the local planning authority.
"In general, an appeal will be recalled for ministerial decision only where it raises issues of genuine national interest."