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Controversial plans for luxury home at Culloden Battlefield set to be given go-ahead despite objections from National Trust for Scotland

By Val Sweeney

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Concerns have been raised about the impact of cumulative development on Culloden Battlefield.
Concerns have been raised about the impact of cumulative development on Culloden Battlefield.

Controversial plans to convert a steading at Culloden Battlefield into a family home are being recommended for approval – despite strong objections from a leading conservation charity.

A proposed development at Culchunaig Steading was previously rejected by Scottish ministers who overturned Highland Council’s decision to approve it.

Highland councillors are again being recommended to approve a revised plan despite opposition from the National Trust for Scotland (NTS).

Council officials will tell next week’s south planning applications committee meeting that the proposal is an "extremely sympathetic and sensitive conversion of a historical building".

However, the NTS – which has performed a U-turn in lodging an objection – now believes ongoing research shows the area could have been the location of decisive action during the battle fought between Jacobite and government forces in April 1746.

It also raises concerns that the battlefield is coming under ever-increasing pressure from cumulative development, representing unacceptable "creeping suburbanisation".

In 2018, Highland councillors approved the designs and layout for a controversial 16-home development at Viewhill, although in December they rejected another controversial plan to convert the nearby Treetop Equestrian Centre into a holiday complex.

Culchunaig Steading.
Culchunaig Steading.

Clea Warner, Highlands and Islands general manager for the NTS, outlines the organisation’s opposition to the revised application for Culchunaig Steading, which has been submitted by architectural technician Mark Hornby, of MRH Design.

"In our previous response, we did not object because we misunderstood the full implications this application, and the impact it could have on what we now realise is a very important part of the Battle of Culloden," she explains.

"All historians and archaeologists involved in researching the battle agree that this is land which was fought over during the battle, and as such there is much more for us to learn about this area, and the responsibility to protect it, as set out in national policy."

She says research suggests that the specific area played host to one of two pivotal "pincer movements" in the battle.

"Any development in this area could, therefore, have a significant negative impact on the cultural and historical value of this site," Ms Warner states.

She goes on to say that since the original application in 2015 and the subsequent application in 2018, Culloden Battlefield has come under ever-increasing pressure from development, and the NTS agrees with Scottish ministers that the cumulative development pressure represents a creeping suburbanisation which is totally unacceptable.

"The NTS is not a statutory consultee, but we are devoting more and more resources to deal with the number of planning applications which affect this site," she says, adding a report called Living with the Battlefield, published last July, clearly showed the strength of public opinion about its special character.

Historic Environment Scotland, which is a statutory consultee, has not objected to the application although it recommends archaeological mitigation is conducted during any related ground-breaking works.

A design statement submitted by Mr Hornby states the previous proposal has been fully appraised following the Scottish Government’s refusal and the revised application differs significantly.

It also points out there is policy support at local and national level for the principle of re-use of traditional buildings.

In recommending approval, planning officers say the revised proposal will sensitively and sympathetically restore a derelict traditional steading.

The report states: "While the site sits within both Culloden Muir Conservation Area and the Inventory of Historic Battlefields, this does not mean that no development can take place.

"It does mean that there is a greater level of scrutiny afforded to any development proposal so that it does not cause unnecessary damage or affect the integrity of the historic battlefield or cause harm to the character and appearance of the conservation area."

Related story: Culloden Battlefield is a war grave and protection of it should be enshrined in law

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