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Fort William’s housing shortage is acute but so is the need to preserve peat in the face of the climate emergency and that must be taken into account when it comes to more than 300 new homes proposed for the slopes of Cow Hill in the town’s Upper Achintore area.
So say climate emergency activists following last week’s public meeting to discuss concerns surrounding the application from Link Housing.
The meeting was well attended by residents from the area and chaired by the town’s community council chairman, Alex Farquhar.
As well as Link Housing, there were representatives from the contractor and Lochaber Housing.
Drainage issues, flooding risks and the increase in traffic were all raised, as were worries about the removal of thousands of tons of peat during the construction of the new properties.
A spokesman for the local branch of the Extinction Rebellion (XR) climate emergency campaign group told the Lochaber Times that peat needed to be seen as a hugely important ecological resource.
‘The contractor has indicated that 20,000 tonnes of the stuff are to be removed from the site, which will release almost 3,000 tonnes of CO2E into the atmosphere,’ said the spokesperson.
‘From the perspective of climate change, and the recent declaration of climate and ecological emergency by Highland Council, that is a very high price to pay, and one which should not be overlooked in a hasty appraisal of the developer’s proposals.
‘If Cow Hill is genuinely an irreplaceable location to help meet Fort William’s need for social and affordable housing, then we would like to see clear evidence that the peat disruption has been kept to an absolute minimum.’
As a comparison, 20,000 tons of peat stores the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide produced by driving a car to the moon and back 125 times or the annual carbon footprint of 14,500 people living in Tanzania.
Local resident Kevin Hickman said: ‘It was clear at the meeting that people are very anxious about the removal of peat as it is the best carbon capture and storage there is and needs to be preserved in the world’s fight against climate chaos.’
Speaking to the Lochaber Times, Mr Farquhar said this particular site had been zoned for housing for 38 years and this particular development worked on for the past four or five years.
‘When it comes to the peat, it will all be done to the procedures stipulated by the Scottish Government. People ask how it can go ahead in the light of the climate crisis. But there is no legislation preventing building on peat and if a development meets planning requirements, then it can go ahead.
‘If you legislated to stop building on peat, about 90 per cent of developments in Lochaber would be halted.
‘What we need are new modern homes with environmentally sound improvements to get people out of rubbish housing that has a negative impact on the environment through such things as poor insulation and inefficient heating systems.’