Government reporter overturns Caol houses planning refusal

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A Scottish Government reporter has dismissed concerns and objections from local residents and councillors to give the thumbs up to an appeal from developers wanting to build 18 new homes on one of Caol’s few remaining green amenity spaces.

It was in the spring this year that the planning application from Lochaber Housing Association (LHA) for permission to build 18 affordable new homes to the rear of Glenkingie Terrace, Glenkingie Street and Kilmallie Road in Caol was unanimously turned down by members of Highland Council planning committee, including the other Lochaber councillors present.

Speaking at the time, Caol and Mallaig ward councillor, Ben Thompson, said it had not been an easy decision as there was a ‘huge waiting list’ for housing in Caol but that 18 new properties, including three-storey flats, was ‘shoehorning’ too much into a small space.

However, unsurprisingly, since planning officers had recommended the application be granted, LHA exercised its right to appeal to the Scottish Government in an attempt to overturn the refusal decision.

And last week,  Scottish Government Reporter Trevor Croft confirmed he would uphold the appeal, subject to 14 planning conditions, in a move that has no third party right of appeal.

Giving his reaction to the news, Councillor Thompson commented: ‘Effectively, the Scottish Government planner disagrees with the many residents, community council and Highland councillors that the development on the scale proposed would have negative amenity impact on existing residents.

‘That is the formal planning process completed now and there is no third party right of appeal.’

And he later told the Lochaber Times: ‘We have a chronic housing shortage across Lochaber and especially in Caol, which is very popular. I very much welcome new housing proposals coming forward.

‘That being said I am disappointed by planning permission being granted for this scheme as I took the same view as the many residents who objected. This proposal puts too many properties in too small an area and loses some well used green space.

Lochaber councillor Ben Thompson. Photograph: Abrightside Photography. FW Councillor Ben Thompson 1no JP
Lochaber councillor Ben Thompson. Photograph: Abrightside Photography.

‘I am, however, glad that the council is requiring the developer to contribute to building additional classroom capacity at Caol Primary school.’

Giving his decision on the appeal Scottish Government Reporter Trevor Croft stated there was no issue about the principle of developing the site, which lies within a long
established residential area.

‘It is effectively undeveloped land within the settlement boundary as shown on the Caol map in the West Highlands and Islands local development plan,’ he commented.

The council’s reason for refusal stated that through the scale of development the
proposal did not demonstrate sufficient sensitivity and respect towards the existing layout and design and did not have sufficient regard to the historic pattern of development through the removal of parking and access.

Although the two proposed blocks of apartments are a storey higher than the surrounding houses, the nearest ones in direct line of sight would be some 40 metres away – approximately double the 20 metres typical distances between blocks of the existing houses across the fronting roads and which comprise the principal outlooks from the houses.

Mr Croft said that, at this distance, he did not consider the additional storey height would dominate the outlook from the existing houses.

‘Mature deciduous trees along the canal embankment would still be prominent in the outlooks to the rear of the houses,’ he stated. ‘I do not consider residential amenity would be compromised to an extent that would justify refusing to grant planning permission.’

Both the proposed semi-detached houses and the apartment blocks, the latter with
feature gables front and rear, matched the general form of the existing houses, Mr Croft continued.

And, while admitting that there would be a reduction in overall green space, the landscaping and play area would be an improvement on what he termed the ‘somewhat unkempt character’ of the existing site.

Mr Croft also felt the area was not without access to open areas since there was also a ‘significant’ area of public open space some 200 metres to the west of the appeal site, along with a good network of paths.

The council received representations from 13 households objecting to the proposals
and four late representations were submitted via the community council’s Facebook page.

The council’s planning officers had originally recommended the application be approved on the grounds that the delivery of the affordable scheme, with its mix of house types was acceptable, a conclusion which Mr Croft said he agreed with.