Kilmallie council baffled by quango’s ‘lack of interest’ in hotel expansion near Neptune’s Staircase

The Moorings Hotel alongside the Caledonian Canal. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, NO F10 Moorings Hotel 02
The Moorings Hotel alongside the Caledonian Canal. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, NO F10 Moorings Hotel 02

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Kilmallie Community Council has been left baffled by what it says is Historic Environment Scotland’s (HES) apparent lack of interest in plans to extend a hotel which overlooks the famous flight of iconic locks at Neptune’s Staircase on the Caledonian Canal at Banavie.

The community council, which last week discussed the planning application from Lochaber Hotels Ltd to reconfigure and modernise the hotel with the addition of a further 25 bedrooms, has already formally objected to the scheme because of the impact councillors feel the development will have on the Staircase, a scheduled monument.

Although HES agrees the proposed extension will be much more visible in views up Neptune’s Staircase, it said that, given the existence of a hotel on the site already, it does not feel the impacts are sufficient to raise issues of national interest.

And while a small part of the extension might ‘oversail’ part of the ground designated as a scheduled monument, HES has informed the community council it is ‘content’ that Scheduled Monument Consent is not required.

However, the community council is concerned that the scale of the three-storey extension to the part of the building which is closest to the canal, is out of character with everything else in the vicinity of the scheduled monument and will dominate the setting of the Staircase from all directions.

The community council in its formal objection states: ‘The scale of the development will almost double the number of rooms at the hotel. This will have a negative impact on both locals and visitors. The Staircase is a much visited attraction, including users of the Great Glen Way Core Path and the canal is hugely important to local people.’

Responding to HES’s explanation as to why it had elected not to officially comment, the community council said it was surprised by the reasons given.

Secretary Russell Leaper, replying to HES on behalf of the community council, added: ‘We understand that HES will only object when proposals have impacts which raise issues of national interest. However, if the flight of locks at Neptune’s Staircase on the Caledonian Canal is not a feature of national interest, we are not sure what would be.

‘In addition, as you note in your letter, the current proposal will add 4m to the height of the building to make a third storey and project this outwards overlooking the canal, which will have an impact upon the setting of the canal.

‘We believe that such impacts on the setting of the flight of locks at Neptune’s Staircase, as the longest example of its kind in Scotland, are of national interest.’

Mr Leaper also told HES that, while it may consider this a borderline case as to whether Scheduled Monument Consent was required, it was even more important in the case of this proposal which he claimed will overhang the scheduled monument area and impact its setting.

And at last week’s virtual meeting of the community council, Mr Leaper said several consultations in recent years concerning developments along the canal had made it clear the strength of feeling in the community over such projects.

‘That is why we decided we needed to object and at least encourage a discussion about the development, which seems kind of inappropriate for the Staircase, and how it might be made a bit more acceptable to many more of the immediate neighbours and visitors,’ he added.

‘We were in touch with HES, and it is disappointing they actually just declined completely to comment, despite the fact if you look at the designation of the area it looks like where the building is, it is actually on the scheduled monument, so we think it probably needs Scheduled Monument Consent, as well as planning permission.’

A spokesperson for Scottish Canals, asked if it was aware of the planning application, told the Lochaber Times that as the application did not affect the canal or Scottish Canals’ land, the organisation had no comment to make on the proposal.