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The Highland Council was forced to issue a vociferous denial this week that any concrete plan existed to bulldoze one of Kinlochleven’s only two play parks to make way for new houses.
The furore erupted after local Fort William and Ardnamurchan councillor Andrew Baxter, who also lives in Kinlochleven, went public with information sent to him in an email on Friday, concerning a housing option for the play park site in the village’s Lovat Road.
Kinlochleven has two play areas, both of which are in need of refurbishment and which only recently featured on the front page of the Lochaber Times after complaints about their condition.
Councillor Baxter posted on his Lochaber voice social media page that he was ‘horrified’ by the possibility and also posted an image of an architectural drawing showing six houses located on the play park site.
‘This is the first time I have heard of such a plan and it is certainly not an area of the village I’ve ever heard suggested as being suitable for development,’ he said.
‘I’ve taken the unusual step of posting the details on this page and making my opposition to any such plans known to council officers. This means that if it came to the planning committee I would be prevented from taking part in any debate.
‘However, I think that a loss of a play area at a time when the council should be spending money to improve play spaces for our children is unacceptable.
‘Lochaber councillors have discussed with officers how we can find money to improve play parks. Just 10 days ago we told officers we wished to allocate £50,000 from a new fund to go towards the two play areas in Kinlochleven. Little did I realise there was a plan to concrete over one of these spaces.
‘Although we need good quality new social housing in Kinlochleven there are more suitable sites in the village than trying to shoehorn houses in a gap surrounded by houses that would lead to a loss of amenity to those residents.
‘By publicising this I hope that local residents will also express their opposition and that council officers rethink this development so that it doesn’t go beyond the drawing board stage and become a full planning application.’
Quizzed by the Lochaber Times about what was going on, a spokesman for the Inverness-headquartered local authority told us there were no plans to develop the Lovat Road play park.
The spokesman went on to explain: ‘Due to the high demand for affordable housing in the area we have been looking at a number of possible sites as part of a broad trawl for sites in Kinlochleven and the wider Lochaber area.
‘There are no plans to develop this site. Had we felt it appropriate to move forward a full report would have been given to local ward members for their consideration.
‘We will continue looking for suitable sites for development in Kinlochleven as we are keen to deliver some quality affordable new homes for the village.’
But when informed of the council’s denial, Mr Baxter was less than impressed. ‘It seems peculiar that I was being asked for my views on a plan complete with an architect’s site layout on Friday afternoon but after considerable public opposition expressed over the weekend I am told that this wasn’t really a plan at all,’ he said.
‘You can hear the squeal of brakes in Inverness all the way down here in Kinlochleven as the council executes a U-turn. ‘
Mr Baxter’s original post drew more than 70 comments, almost all of which expressed fury over the possibility the play park could be under threat.
Local parent Mark Macgregor told us: ‘As a local, I, as with everyone, I think, was shocked to see these plans, especially on a play park we are trying to save – and one the council is fully aware we are trying to save.
‘It’s a disgrace that no locals were consulted about this, especially as the site is a play park, a bad one yes, but it is a place we can improve. It’s typical of the council to do nothing for the youth but take things away that could help them promote learning, life skills and make friendships.
‘I am disgusted by this and I know the village will object to this being built. They have money to build houses on a park but nothing to improve or renew it. Shocking, to be honest.’