D-Day approaches for charity Knocknagael Ltd's bid to take a Scottish Government owned green space in Inverness into community ownership
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Campaigners hoping to take a swathe of Inverness green space into community hands say rejection would “fly in the face” of the Scottish Government’s own health and climate policies.
The charity Knocknagael Ltd suffered a blow last summer when Holyrood ministers rejected a bid to secure a community asset transfer of the Smiddy Field, just south of Lochardil and Holm Mains.
The 20-acre Knocknagael bull stud farm field between Essich Road and Culduthel Mains is currently owned by the Scottish Government.
Knocknagael Ltd fear the site could be lost to future housing development and want to create a green hub with community walks, allotments, an orchard, polytunnels and other growing areas for community food production.
A variety of charities hope to use the hub as a focus to improve people’s health and wellbeing.
The Scottish Government says the land is integral to operation of the stud farm and that passing it to the community group would increase costs to crofters who hire bulls at a subsidised rate.
After refusal last year, the community group asked for a review of the decision, which was granted by Tom Arthur, the minister for public finance, planning and community wealth.
The review will be heard by an independent panel of three, led by a planning reporter, at 10 am on Tuesday next week at Highland Rugby Club.
“The field and project is so strategically important for the area. If we don’t secure it now, it is never going to happen,” Dr Maria de la Torre, Knocknagael Ltd’s chairwoman, said.
“There is very broad and growing community support for the project, highlighted in our public consultation.
“If we do not realise our aims, we really feel it will be a lost opportunity for the community and the city of Inverness.
“The Scottish Government is so keen on community empowerment as policy, trying to diversify land and give more access to communities.
“Opposing our aspirations for Knocknagael just flies in the face of their own aims and this notion of them being open to work with the community.”
Knocknagael Ltd's 2020 consultation received more than 340 responses of support, while there has been significant opposition voiced to developing the site for housing.
The review hearing panel will consist of retired civil servant Paul Cackette, a former chief planning reporter to the Scottish Government, ecologist and forester Judith Webb, and Russell Smith, a crofter based near Bonar Bridge who is a director of the Scottish Crofting Federation.
The Scottish Government’s Rural Payments and Inspections Division (RPID), which holds agricultural responsibilities, will attend the meeting.
For the campaigners, a variety of witnesses will speak in favour of community ownership, including the Highland Food Partnership, the Homeless Trust and other charity representatives from Centred and Action for Children.
Also giving evidence will be Professor Ronald MacVicar, a retired GP, who serves as a director with Knocknagael Ltd.
“We’re hoping to convince the panel of the merits of the case we’ve put forward, in particular the community benefits,” Professor MacVicar stressed
“These, we would suggest, are wide-ranging in terms of health and wellbeing, food-growing and addressing many Government and public health priorities including climate action.
“The government’s Rural Payments and Inspections Division (RPID) is suggesting that the benefits to the bull farm are significant, and outweigh any other benefits.
“We would suggest that the community benefits – as enshrined in Scottish Government health and wellbeing policy and so on – perhaps haven’t been taken into sufficient consideration.
“We will present witnesses from a range of charities with a particular interest in using the food-growing, training and developmental aspects of the project.
“That will be for the good of children and families, for disadvantaged people and people with mental health issues.”
Highland MSP Drew Hendry MSP and the Greens’ Ariane Burgess MSP support Knocknagael’s aspirations.
“As one of Europe’s fastest-growing cities, it’s vital that Inverness balances the need to create homes with the needs of communities to access and make use of our green space,” Ms Burgess said.
“Knocknagael’s plans are exactly what Inverness needs as volume housebuilders seek to free up more land to expand the urban sprawl.
“Having worked with the community for some time, and made their case in Parliament, I can understand their nervousness as the hearing approaches.
“The Scottish Government supporting Knocknagael would demonstrate their support of the recently revised planning framework that prioritises tackling our climate and nature emergencies and acknowledges the need to provide more local food growing spaces in cities.
“It’s vital that the decision reflects the need for our planning system to value not just economic growth but also our climate, nature and wellbeing.”