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Plans to convert old Culcabock school in Inverness into flats spark 23 objections from Highland capital residents

By Nicola Sinclair, Local Democracy Reporter

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An Inverness housing application for Culcabock Child Guidance Centre will go before councillors at the south planning committee meeting next week.

Highland Council owns the building in Culcabock Avenue, and currently runs it as a child guidance centre.

Before that, it was a primary school.

Now, in an effort to meet Inverness housing demand, the council wants to convert the historic building into flats. It also has plans to build two detached homes in the grounds.

However, the planning application attracted 23 objections from local residents. They say the plans represent ‘over development’ of the site, and are not in keeping with the historic character of the area.

Neighbours also fear the development will increase noise and traffic, block daylight to nearby properties and result in a loss of trees and green space.

They say there is no shortage of land where Highland Council could build instead.

Culcabock and Drakies community council echoed their concerns, and raised a formal objection to Highland Council.

However, Highland Council says the development will be in keeping with the character of Culcabock. The planning report points out that while the school isn’t listed, it is of a historic nature. As such, the council won’t knock it down.

Instead, it plans to convert it into one three-bed flat, one three-bed flat with study, and a one-bed flat with mezzanine.

In the wider grounds, the council is proposing two detached, 1.5-storey homes with three bedrooms. The council had hoped to put two semi-detached houses on the north of the site but abandoned this plan on advice from planners. Instead, one house will occupy the south side of the site, and one to the north.

Highland Council says the design and materials chosen are sympathetic and in keeping with the neighbourhood.

The council has other challenges to contend with, too. During survey work, it discovered a dead bat and significant amounts of droppings. This prompted three separate bat surveys, which concluded that the bats are not using the building for nesting in winter, and there’s very little activity in summer.

However, if construction doesn’t start within 12-18 months of the July 2021 survey, another survey will need to be conducted.

A bigger problem is the presence of 12 trees including ash, cherry, elm, holly and sycamore. Some of the trees are in poor health and need to be removed regardless of development, but others would be felled to make way for the new houses.

As such, the council’s forestry officer has objected to the planning application.

Nonetheless, planning officers are recommending the application for approval.

Highland Council initially brought the Culcabock homes plan to committee in February 2020 for pre-application advice. However, progress appears to have been derailed by the pandemic.

The local community complained that the council undertook its public consultation during lockdown and did not include the application on its weekly planning lists.

The council admitted the mistake, and says it repeated the consultation process.

It will be up to councillors to decide if the environmental issues can be overcome in order to deliver these new homes. South planning committee meets for the first time in the new political term, on Thursday.

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