THE planning laws surrounding sites of national importance should be overhauled in a bid to ensure they are protected from development, according to the chairman of a leading conservation charity.
Sir Kenneth Calman, chairman of the National Trust for Scotland (NTS), is calling for a dialogue with ministers in the aftermath of a row over new housing close to the historic Culloden Battlefield near Inverness.
A total of 16 new houses are to be built near the site where the Jacobite dream of replacing the House of Hanover on the throne ended in April 1746, changing British history and heralding a campaign of extraordinary cruelty against the Highland people and the end of the clan system. Up to 2000 men are thought to be buried beneath or around the site.
Highland Council initially refused Inverness Properties' plan for the development at Viewhill Farm about half a mile from the battlefield. But, following an appeal by the developers, a Scottish Government-appointed reporter has indicated planning permission should be granted with conditions.
The National Trust for Scotland (NTS), which manages the battlefield and centre, objected to the plan.
In a letter to The Herald today, Sir Kenneth says the Trust accepts that Historic Scotland and the Scottish Reporter worked within the existing guidelines, but he argues: "It is clear that these parameters are wrong and need to be questioned.
"It seems to us the fundamental issue is that there must be better ways to taking strategic decisions about protecting sites of national importance. We must find a way to prevent a piecemeal approach in which many individual, small-scale permitted developments incrementally join up to overwhelm a heritage site."
He says the specific development at Culloden did not in itself fatally impinge on the battlefield, but it set a precedent. Developers could now argue for more portions of land to be given over to yet more housing, which was the danger recognised by Highland Council.
He added: "Historic Scotland did very good work in preparing an inventory of battlefield sites -but what use is this if we do not have the legislative and procedural means to ensure the intrinsic value of these sites is considered in any decisions that affect them?"
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said that the Reporter had concluded that the proposed houses at Culloden would be largely contained within the footprint of the existing buildings and would be significantly lower in height.
She said: "The draft Scottish Planning Policy (SPP) on which we consulted during 2013 updates planning policy to reflect more recent legislation on the protection on battlefields."
The draft SPP included the statement that "planning authorities should protect, conserve and, where appropriate, seek to enhance the key characteristics and special qualities of sites on the current Inventory of Historic Battlefields," she said.
"We are currently considering all of the responses to the draft SPP and are due to publish the final version in June 2014."
In addition, the first ever Historic Environment Strategy for Scotland was being developed in close partnership with colleagues from across the historic environment sector, including the NTS.
She added: "This will provide a framework that will enable the sector to collectively look after our historic environment for future generations. The Scottish Government welcomes continued dialogue with, and input from the NTS, as the new Strategy is delivered."