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INSIDE TRACK: Keeping track of estate roads appearing by stealth

Conservationists concerned that many of the tracks cut into the hills to build the controversial Beauly-Denny power line might become permanent will be encouraged by the Cairngorm National Authority's approach.

In a little-noticed decision, the authority's planning committee threw out applications from both the Ben Alder and Drumochter estates to keep stretches oftrack. The former wanted to keep just under half a mile to aid the running of the estate, for example by allowing better management of woodland, deer and moorland fires.

Drumochter, meanwhile, wanted nearly three miles of track for ease of taking shooting parties up on to the hill, arguing, crucially: "The requirement for estate staff and clients to use the A9 for accessing parts of the estate would be much reduced, offering significant road safety improvements."

Worthy purposes all, and the committee did see some merit in the arguments about the A9 advanced by Drumochter. But, when the Scottish Government approved the Beauly-Denny transmission line in 2010, it was on condition these temporary access tracks be removed because of their environmental impact.

The planning consent given to developers, SSE and Scottish Power, requires them to return the tracks to their previous state. But any landowners who want to retain the temporary access tracks on their land simply need to apply for planning permission to their local council.

For the cost of a few hundred pounds for a planning application, they could effectively have a new estate road, albeit a rather short one. There are almost 60 such tracks covering some 100 miles in SSE's northern section of the 137-mile power line.

There is also a worry that developers could see this as a precedent. There have been three applications to Highland Council that have been called in by Cairngorms National Park Authority as they are within its boundaries.

Aside from Ben Alder and Drumochter, Forestry Commission Scotland wants to keep a track with bridges near Kinloch Laggan for forest management. This has yet to be considered by the planning committee.

Environmental charities are calling on the Scottish Government to act on the creation of unregulated hilltracks. They want ministers to end "permitted development rights" that allow landowners to avoid the public scrutiny of the planning process if they say a new track is needed for forestry or agricultural purposes.

So they didn't want the Beauly-Denny tracks, subject to the planning process, to introduce yet more scars on the hills. But the park authority was clear in respect of both applications: "The retention of the temporary access track will neither conserve nor enhance the natural and cultural heritage of the area. The access track represents a significant scar in the landscape and is proposed for retention as a matter of expediency rather than the route having been designed to best address the landscape and ecology constraints, which in itself may not have been appropriate."

But there will be others.

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

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