Saturday, 26 September 2009

Views just in

I am posting; with the author's permission of course, comments on the Main Issues Report as they are sent through to me. Here is a view from somewhere in Ross-shire

"I would like to comment on this document which is in my view completely unsatisfactory. It completely fails to address the key issues of sustainable development, climate change or peak oil. In fact I question the whole basis of this plan and must ask you please to completely reconsider it. To give three key reasons:

First, it is a complete nonsense to call a plan ‘local’ if it is to cover a third of Scotland, an area larger than Belgium. At the least, a full Structure Plan should be produced for this vast area.

Second, the whole plan lacks a 21st c. vision for the area and seems stuck in 1970s thinking. It seems to revolve around creating a large urban / suburban sprawl along the A96, completely dependent on road and air transport and destroying excellent agricultural land in the process. There are very few proposals for anywhere else. This will suck people and resources out of the areas of Highland further away from Inverness, which need investment and support much more than Inverness does. In fact the key benefit of the plan seems to be to pour more money into the pockets of a few wealthy individuals at the expense of the Highlands as a whole.

Third, I am very disappointed at the failure of the plan to raise standards for energy conservation, actively promote adequate community facilities, green spaces, allotments etc., or to tackle the need for modern, efficient public transport and e-communications networks. Overall I feel that the Council has failed to take this exercise seriously enough and that the Highlands could suffer for years ahead as a result.

Please take these comments as a formal, personal response to the current public consultation process"

What a great headline!

The Highland News; Week Ending Saturday, September 26, 2009:


Well it certainly made me smile. Should you be moved to seek out both the paper and the item you will also find on the opposite page:

Storage Plan fight has 'nowhere to turn'

The tale of a local Community Council angered by a planning system that has no third party right of appeal. You'll also find a comment and a few words of advice from some group or other called APT. Maybe we should be employing headline writers?

Happy reading

Strictly; the reasons why

No sooner had the credits rolled on last night's 'Strictly' than the forums were buzzing; or so I was told by another family member. Anyway, I began to think about what it was that attracts me to a programme like this.

Perhaps it is the fact that even the most hardened cynic could not fail to be affected by the changes that facing a challenge like this brings about in those that take part in the programme. Most people are taken away from their comfort zones; confident capable people find themselves uncertain and struggling; shyer people come out of their shell; some discover a love for dancing that they never thought they would have. Yes of course there is a certain amount of manipulation; this is a competition and the professionals want to showcase their partner, their relationship with their partner and their own skills in the most advantageous way possible. But overall it shows that if you have the resources to give people enough quality support and training they can succeed beyond that they thought possible.

Planning may not be dancing (and, I'll let you into a secret, I'd much rather be dancing) but some of us in APT have succeeded beyond what we thought might be possible in terms of learning about and understanding the Planning System; even though we have been way beyond our comfort zones a lot of the time and have not had the luxury of all that lovely support and training. Still, we are grateful for the support that we have had to date; and to those that have shared their wisdom, thank you.

Gadget Man

There was a very interesting Item on the radio yesterday morning which discussed the different spending habits of men and women; apparently men prefer to spend money on gadgets.

As I sped through the electrical aisle of the nearby small supermarket a little later that same morning (on my way to find food) I overheard a conversation, undertaken across some distance, between a young couple. It went something like this:


"Do you think we'll need to get a telly for the spare room?"


"We don't even have a bed for the spare room yet"


Strictly time to stop...


I overheard a conversation today in a local shop, it went something like this:

"I switched over to the X Factor last night, Strictly come Dancing has just become so boring"

Fellow Worker:

"I've always preferred X factor anyway"

Make of that what you will, if indeed you can make anything out of that brief snapshot.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Keeping pace with housing need

An item in 'Planning' 250909, Huw Morris writes:

"A sizeable part of the population, it is clear, has no wish to own a home. They cannot all lack ambition or be ensnared by benefits traps. The Scottish Government recently recognised this direction by ending the right to buy for all new social housing to safeguard stock for future generations. With the market dismally failing to deliver homes and a cataclysmic gap between supply, affordability and demand, any serious attempt to tackle the housing crisis must involve a major public sector house building programme"

Only 13 houses were built by the Highland Council between 1998 and 2007 (HwLDP Monitoring Statement page 15). The number of Highland Council owned houses fell by over 5,000 during the period as a result of Right-to-Buy sales. The number of new units built by Housing Associations has increased steadily through time, as has the number of units made available through tenures other than conventional rental, over the period 1998-2007, some 1222 completions of what APTSec assumes to be of mixed tenure (Monitoring Statement; Table H3; Page 16). Unsurprisingly the number of applications for homelessness has almost tripled since 1999.

Looking at housing need, The Structure Plan quotes from the Council's Housing Strategy that almost 5,000 affordable houses would be required in the period 1998 to 2003; actual completions were around 700 during the same 5 year period. Two studies by Heriot Watt University show that the need for affordable housing has increased as house prices have increased at a rate well above incomes. (Monitoring Statement pages 32 and 33)

What does this mean? Well according to the Statement;
  • As a percentage of current stock, the greatest need is in Skye and Lochalsh and Nairn, and the smallest in Badenoch & Strathspey and Sutherland.
The Nairnshire Telegraph reported Tuesday that Highland Council's Housing and Social Work Committee (report for agenda item 14; 160909 meeting) has agreed to submit a bid to the Scottish Government for funding to support the construction of some 51 houses which will include 9 new council houses for the elderly and disabled in Nairn.

There are also plans for 8 houses at an old hospital site in Caol.

Planning Democracy launches new web site

As their new web site states:

"Planning Democracy is a community run organization that campaigns for a more people friendly and accountable planning system in Scotland"

What has your experience of the planning system been? Why not visit their 'Get Involved' page and click on the 'form' link there and let them know. A little time now could save us all a lot of pain later.

The meaning behind the words

BBC and STV News reported yesterday that:

"Papers have been lodged at the Court of Session in Edinburgh which could prevent a new coal-fired power station being built in Ayrshire.

Campaigners are asking for a judicial review of the plans for the power station at Hunterston."


"A legal challenge against the Scottish Government has been launched by campaign group ‘Communities Opposed To New Coal At Hunterston’, who oppose plans for a new coal-fired power station in Largs, North Ayrshire.

The group is campaigning for a judicial review on the way planning permission is granted.

They are also challenging the inclusion of the station on Scotland's National Planning Framework - a list of 14 projects considered crucial to the country's infrastructure and development - which they said took place after a consultation had ended."

Responding on STV:

"A spokesman for the Scottish Government insisted that the National Planning Framework has been subject to wide-ranging consultation.

“It is vital that communities are able to have their say on proposed developments and reforms to the planning system have increased participation in the decision-making process.

“Projects designated as national developments in the NPF will still require planning permission or equivalent consents.

“The public will be able to have their say on matters such as siting, design and the minimisation and mitigation of potential environmental effects as part of the development management process, including any public inquiry."

There were also items in The Herald and The Scotsman.

APTs experience of the NPF consultation was not as positive as it could have been, and the 'wide ranging consultation' still left many, many people across Highland and indeed, I suspect, Scotland completely unaware of the existence or implications of this National Planning document.

Having a say is not the same as being able to influence the decision making process and the inclusion of the power station in the National document (as one of 12 National Developments) means that, 'NEED', has been established as a principle so as for as the Planning System is concerned, a power station there will be!

However, as the spokesman's final paragraph indicates, the public can comment on,

"siting, design and the minimisation and mitigation of potential environmental effects"

How is that for giving the public more say in the planning system?

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

CPO; It could happen to you?

Is the case below a 'one off' or merely a high profile example of what happens regularly elsewhere?

According to an article in the Scotsman:

"Four homeowners living on the fringe of the Menie Estate have been left facing the prospect of compulsory purchase orders being used to buy their houses after a decision by Aberdeenshire councillors to include their land in a revised masterplan of the huge Trump development near Balmedie."

The article ends:


THE decision was taken on planning grounds, setting aside the question of land ownership

The Trump Organisation wants to negotiate agreements with the four homeowners and insists an application for Aberdeenshire Council to use compulsory purchase order powers would be the last resort. Councillor Martin Ford has tabled a motion for the council meeting on 1 October, opposing the use of CPOs to "force Aberdeenshire residents from their own homes on or adjacent to the Menie estate".

A spokesman for Aberdeenshire Council said: "We would expect further discussions with the Trump Organisation to discuss progress made before any decision would be taken to put the issue (of CPOs] to full council."

SO could the Local Authority justify the use of a CPO in the wider public interest? The powers, so APTSec understands are with the Local Authority here.

How are the residents coping?

According to their web site, 'Tripping Up Trump' is a fresh energised movement standing up for the people and environment threatened by Donald Trump’s development in Aberdeenshire, They are calling for support for their movement on Wednesday 01 Oct 2009:

"We need everyone to show their support and congregate outside the AECC conference centre in Aberdeen in support of the families."

They also have a petition.

You can view the 'Tripping Up Trump' site via the link here

APTSec is having trouble locating an article on the Architecture Scotland pages, which was found via a google search:

'Hoskins distances himself from Trump CPOs'

To see conceptual visions of the plans prepared by Mr Hoskins the architect click here

The Settlement Hierarchy

Is the statement below, taken from the paragraph headed 'Tornagrain' in the Main Issues Report for the HwLDP, really accurate?

"The potential for a new settlement in the Inner Moray Firth was identified in the Highland
Structure Plan

So what does The Highland Structure Plan Written Statement March 2001**
actually say with regard to a new settlement?

Well the Structure Plan talks of housing developments being largely accommodated in existing settlements, but recognises that in some circumstances new 'settlements' have a role to play in meeting housing demand. It states, in terms of new settlements, that:

"The Inner Moray Firth is the optimum location in terms of demand and marketing factors and in making the most efficient use of infrastructure." And;

"The A96 Corridor provides an option of linking new housing development to business opportunities associated with the airport and rail link to Inverness and Nairn."

So the Structure Plan allows for the possibility of housing in the A96 Corridor linked to business opportunities associated with the airport and a rail link to Inverness and Nairn. However it is useful to bear in mind that the Adopted Inverness Local Plan , March 2006, (and giving guidance to 2011) prioritises development of the business opportunities at the Airport first and does not allocate land for housing development near these business opportunities .

But does the Structure Plan provide any guidance as to what any new settlements should look like?

Well, yes, new settlements:

"...should be comprehensively planned to create balanced communities acting as local centres within the settlement hierarchy."

Does the Structure Plan define a 'local centre'? Yes, it does so in 'Appendix 1 - Settlement Hierarchy'. A local centre seems to have a population of anywhere between 560 and 17,000, thus Bettyhill, Kingussie, Nairn and Wick are all listed, along with many other places in Highland as local centres, and they all provide a range of services.

Does the Structure Plan give a guide to the size of new settlements? Yes it does:

"It is anticipated that in order to support the types of services associated with a local centre (as set out in Appendix 1) a new settlement would require to comprise in the order of 500 to 1,000 houses."

However the Main Issues Report states that:

"Tornagrain is a new settlement proposal in the centre of the Corridor, capable of
providing almost 5000 houses over the next 30-40 years

The emergence of the proposal for a new Town at Tornagrain arrived via a master plan for the A96 Corridor. This master plan is currently non-statutory guidance.

It seems to APTSec that it is in fact the potential for settlements in the Inner Moray Firth that is mentioned in the Structure Plan; settlements of up to 1000 houses in relation housing demand and in the case of the A96 Corridor related to specific economic conditions. The related adopted Inverness Local Plan recognises that given the corridor’s wider potential, Tornagrain and Lochside are suitable for modest consolidation only within the plan period.

What would your understanding of these plans be?

**The plan period of the Structure Plan is to 2017.

[SPP1 in force at the time the emergence of the currently approved and adopted plans for the Inverness / Nairn areas:

"Structure Plans - Under current arrangements structure plans should provide a long-term vision, looking forward at least 10 years, as part of an overview of an area’s development requirements. Brevity, clarity and precision are key requirements.

Local plan policies must conform to the structure plan and be fully justified, demonstrating what is and is not acceptable in land use terms.]

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

'Homes' we cannot live in

Architecture Scotland reports that:

"Birmingham is feeling the effects of the property crash with a glut of unsold apartments lying empty, it emerging that developers are even struggling to offload them to the city council for homeless accommodation.

Councillors have so far rebuffed all offers from desperate developers branding the apartments, “the slums of tomorrow”, “too close together”, “poorly built” and “not good enough for council tenants”.

Real estate agents have called for the private sector to build more quality family accommodation in the city centre, where the population has jumped by a third since 2001. "

This comes hot on the heals of statements made by CABE, Commission for Architecture in the Built Environment, in August 2009 that the UK builds the smallest homes in Europe.

Perhaps someone would like to tell APTSec just exactly how we have arrived at where we are now!

Perhaps if some of the older houses were refurbished they would provide more spacious accommodation?

Lib Dems first off the blocks?

According to one of the on-line planning newsletters APTSec receives Sarah Teather, Lib Dem housing spokeswoman, outlined proposals yesterday at the Lib Dem Conference for a "self-starters" initiative, which she said could help first-time buyers attain an affordable property, as well as help to regenerate areas. Apparently 30,000 families could be housed if all of England’s empty social homes were brought back into use.

Given that we are in conference season and the news appears to be full of stories of how the various Parties will cut costs, should we also be expecting announcements from the other Political Parties as to their plans to solve the housing crisis?


...wonder how many homes could be made available under a scheme like this in our neck of the the woods?

Let the Rivers flow

According to the news today The Environment Agency has reported that three quarters of Rivers in England and Wales fall below a new European environmental standard - although the state of rivers has improved.

River Basin Management Plans (RBMP) now have to be prepared. SEPA (Scottish Environmental Protection Agency) has already prepared and consulted on these RBMP for Scotland, including one for North Highland.

'Water Environment' is a section heading in The Main Issues Report for the Highland-wide Local Development Plan and under this heading it is suggested:

"Our current local plans do not include reference to these documents and it is important that these Plans are considered, as development proposals can cause impacts on water quality. We could therefore promote the aims of the River Basin Management Plan for the Scotland River Basin District and Area Management Plans by addressing development-related issues."

"We think we should:
  • clearly indicate the quality and status of water bodies in the LocalDevelopment Plan;
  • ensure the water environment will be an important consideration in making decisions on planning applications; and
  • not support development that is shown to have a negative impact if there are no acceptable plans in place to reduce that impact."

A link is provided from the MIR 'Water Environment' section to the SEPA web site.

In the SEPA North Highland Plan The A96 Corridor is included as a case study entitled,

"Development pressures and strategic planning"

"SEPA and Scottish Water continue to work together to identify strategic sewage and water supply solutions for the A96 Corridor proposals. Scottish Water’s current proposals for the A96 corridor are to develop and expand Inverness Water Treatment Works to keep pace with planned development. Longer term, incorporating the developments around Nairn will include a new Wastewater (sewage) Treatment Works. It is working with Highland Council and developers to ensure infrastructure is planned in a strategic manner across a number of development sites. Scottish Water and the Highland Council support SEPA’s policy of connection to the public sewerage system in built up areas. It is also planned to expand the water supply via a new abstraction arrangement."

What alternative is given to the Local Authorities preferred option?

"A reasonable alternative is not to include a policy on this within the Highland wide
Local Development Plan. If this was the case, greater reliance would be placed on
the role of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency for the conservation and
enhancement of the water environment and the Highland Council would continue to
consult SEPA on individual applications."

APTSec is busily trying to work out the implications here; what do you think?

(Community councillors and APT members alike attended the local consultation meetings that SEPA held on the River Basin Managment Plans. The APT committee submitted a written response)

Monday, 21 September 2009

"The Monster of Ness with the Diamond Fin"

Did you know?

Sir Peter Scott was a distinguished ornithologist and a visitor to Loch Ness and he and Dr Robert Rines gave Nessie a scientific name, 'Nessiteras rhombopteryx'. Why? Because as I understand, British legislation allows for protection of an endangered species if it has a proper scientific name('The Conservation of Wild Creatures Act'). So, as I have interpreted, they named the illusive creature just in case it may need protection.

Nessiteras rhombopteryx, as APTSec has read, literally means ‘Ness wonder with a diamond-shaped fin’

The translation in this post's title was given in a brief item on Loch Ness which was featured as part of a radio programme, 'Scott of Slimbridge', from the BBC Archive - but broadcast on Monday 21st September 2009- reflecting on the career of Sir Peter Scott, ornithologist, author, painter, sportsman, war hero, and broadcaster. Sir Peter Scott's TV programme 'Look' ran for 25 years.

I wonder if SNH actually has to consider 'the diamond finned' creature whilst looking at sources of water abstraction to provide for all the major developments in the Inverness area?



Putting our plans in context

"The government's overall debt now stands at £804.8bn, or 57.5% of GDP, an increase of £172bn in the past year.

The massively increased levels of debt are due to the government bailing out troubled banks and its efforts to stimulate the economy during the recession.

It has also had to contend with severely reduced tax receipts from house sales and City bonuses, for example"

BBC news web pages

Pulling up the drawbridge


A thought provoking post on BBC's business editor Robert Peston's blog today.

The bit that caught my eye - in the light of the fact that I still have a school age child:

"More by luck than desert, the generation of Lambert, Balls, Laidlaw and even Peston have had it pretty good.

We had free university education.

We have saved for a pension over the many years of a bull market and when companies and the public sector felt obliged to offer gold-standard final salary pension schemes.

We managed to get on the property ladder before house prices became ludicrously inflated.

And guess what? It was our generation which royally messed up the economy with the inadequate governance that led to the credit crunch and the worst global recession since the 1930s.

We're - on the whole - alright Jack, thanks to the accident of when we happen to have been born.

But those leaving school and university today face an altogether bleaker future: a drought of jobs; a bewildering and unappealing set of options for saving and investing; over-priced residential property (even after the "correction"); relentless fearsome competition from India, China, and so on."

The post follows on from suggestions regarding cuts to schools budgets and proposals for students to pay higher tuition fees.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Strictly Come Judging

The eagerly awaited new series of 'Strictly Come Dancing' began on Friday and it has already generated a significant amount of comment; I cannot use the word 'controversial' since most of the opinions / views generated seem to be heading in one direction.

Strangely enough it is the Judging that seems to be at issue here, rather than the skill of the dancers.

I have to admit that the enjoyment was marred for our whole family thanks to a change in the dynamic of the judging panel. Now I know that this is not a 'life or death matter' but as I have stated this kind of light, undemanding family entertainment is a good remedy for the stresses and strains of life.

The new judge is a perfectly pleasant young woman, but she is an employee. The BBC, as employer, is paid for by the public so it had better get its act together and ensure that it delivers on its commitment to the vast television audience for this show.

Not the only Campus in the Highlands

The recent focus on a site for a campus for Inverness seems to have overshadowed the success of the North Highland College UHI

In a press release entitled, "Convener Confirms Council Commitment to Caithness"

Highland Council convener, Sandy Park states:

I was particularly pleased to learn of the £14 million which has been attracted by North Highland College UHI to create new state-of-the-art training and research facility at the Thurso campus. This will strengthen Caithness’s bid to become the hub of the global marine energy industry. I am confident this will lead to long-term benefits for jobs and economic spin-offs.”

APTSec is pleased to note this, particularly since The National Planning Framework for Scotland 1 had already contained the words:

" 172. Higher education has a key role to play in developing the knowledge economy in rural areas. The confederal UHI Millennium Institute with its constituent colleges throughout the Highlands and Islands, the Crichton University Campus in Dumfries and Heriot-Watt University's Scottish Borders Campus in Galashiels are excellent pioneering examples. While each is pursuing a different development model, all three are building new centres of expertise and creativity, providing high-level jobs, offering opportunities for people to study locally, developing international links and attracting students from around the world."

APTSec had developed concerns given that there appeared to be a change of emphasis in the latest National Planning Framework (2):

"Higher education has a key role to play in developing the knowledge economy in rural areas. TheUHI Millennium Institute with its campus at Beechwood in Inverness and constituent colleges throughout the Highlands and Islands, the Crichton University Campus in Dumfries and Heriot-Watt University’s Borders Campus in Galashiels are excellent pioneering examples. While each is pursuing a different development model, all three are building new centres of expertise and creativity, providing high-level jobs, offering opportunities for people to study locally, developing international links and attracting students from around the world."

APTSec was disappointed to see the removal of the word, 'Confederal' and apparently replaced by an explicit reference to one particular college campus - Beechwood. The paragraph also seemed to infer that this campus already existed? The Highland Council had made the following representation to the Scottish Government as part of the consultation on the latest National Planning Framework for Scotland 2:


19 MARCH 2008


Report by Acting Director of Planning and Development

"RECOMMENDATION That Committee approve the content of this report (including appendices 2 and 3) and agree that it be forwarded to the Scottish Government (along with any other points raised at Committee) as the response of the Council to the Discussion Draft."


"Whilst it is acknowledged in the document that Higher education has a role to play in developing the knowledge economy in rural areas, the role of the Inverness College/UHI campus at Beechwood in Inverness to contribute to the wider economic development of the Highlands & Islands is not specifically mentioned and this is a serious omission. The Council should press for clear identification of this opportunity in the Framework, dependent as it is on the wider infrastructure improvements of Inverness. As set out in the proposed action programme, the delivery of the Beechwood Campus may be worthy of inclusion in the final document."

Returning to the £14 million for the North Highland College UHI, The UHI web site states:

"Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond said: "The Pentland Firth, Scotland's Saudia Arabia of tidal power, has been opened up for development in clean, green energy. The interest, the capacity and the opportunity in these waters is vast. Already, the Crown Estate has been approached by 42 developers to put wave and tidal test devices into the Pentland Firth."

"The Scottish Government is happy to support this £14 million investment to develop new training and research facilities at the North Highland College UHI in Thurso. It is imperative that we continue to support the development of skills, research and infrastructure to ensure we exploit Scotland's full potential in renewable energy and help, building on our strengths, to support a strong economic recovery. This project will significantly strengthen Scotland's well established reputation as the European leader in clean, green energy."

"Funders include the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), UHI, the prospective University of the Highlands and Islands; the Scottish Funding Council (SFC); the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) and Highland Council."

It seems that the above noted announcements by Mr Salmond were originally made in June 2009