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Question mark over plans to build almost 2000 homes at a site east of Inverness at Whiteness

By Val Sweeney

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Highland Council planners say there is “significantly lower” housing requirement in an area near Ardersier than there was when development plans were first approved 13 years ago.

Ambitious plans for residential and leisure development including a marina, hotel, visitor centre and community facilities such as a primary school at the former McDermot Fabrication Yard at Whiteness near Ardersier were first granted in 2007.

But the 307-hectare brownfield site could now be earmarked for industrial use such as renewables following revisions to the masterplan, which shapes development in the area.

The revelations emerged after the site’s current owners, Ardersier Port Ltd, applied to Highland Council to renew the existing planning permission for 1950 residential units which ran out in February.

It believes the site has the potential to create a new community.

But an online response posted by the council’s development plans team – which has subsequently been removed – suggested the site might not be needed for housing following an ongoing review of the existing Inner Moray Firth Local Development Plan (IMFLDP) with an update due to be published this autumn.

“The emerging Housing Need and Demand Assessment shows a significantly lower housing requirement forecast than that of 2010,” the officers stated.

“The lower growth forecasts are set against the wider aims of focusing on directing development to the most sustainable places, co-ordinated infrastructure provision and ensuring sites are financially viable.

“Where the adopted IMFLDP allocates an overprovision of land, such as along the A96 corridor, we will seek to rationalise the sites based on these aims.”

The officers pointed out that Whiteness has also been highlighted as a potential site for renewables-related development as part of the Scottish Government’s national renewables infrastructure plan.

They also noted the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) raised concerns about longer-term flooding risks.

“Given the strategic housing allocation at Whiteness no longer fits with the emerging strategy and that Sepa raise significant concerns about the prospect of residential and education uses located at Whiteness, we expect that the site will be allocated for uses which have a low vulnerability to flood risk only, eg. industrial,” the officers stated.

“When the new plan is adopted we expect that housing/tourism related proposals will not then be considered to accord with the development plan.”

Their comments were posted earlier this month but were removed by Thursday.

A council spokeswoman said: “The response submitted earlier this month is being updated to reflect the current position set out in the council’s adopted development plan.

“We are in the process of gathering evidence on land supply and housing need, including the impact of Covid-19, for a review of the Inner Moray Firth Local Development Plan which will need to be considered and approved by members before being opened up to public consultation.

“It will be vital to ensure that sufficient land is allocated to support our future communities and housing needs.”

Scottish Natural Heritage, meanwhile, has lodged objections to the development maintaining is likely to have a significant effect on the Moray Firth’s bottlenose dolphins and has asked for further information.

Permission for residential and leisure development was originally granted to Whiteness Property Company in 2007.

The site has been owned by Ardersier Port Ltd since July 2016. It was previously owned by Port of Ardersier which went into administration in October 2015.

In 2014, separate in-principle planning consent was granted for the creation of a port and port-related services for energy-related uses. It was renewed in 2019 and is valid until February 2024.

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