CONTROVERSIAL plans for a new community in the Highlands of up to 1,500 houses have hit a snag with the withdrawal of the company which was going to build them.
The project, near Aviemore, has been delayed for several years by legal challenges from conservationists, and now Springfield Properties has confirmed that its focus has shifted elsewhere.
Landowners Rothiemurchus Estate and Springfield had been behind the plans for a village of eco-friendly houses in a forest setting, at An Camas Mòr, on a bank of the River Spey. It would be the first new settlement to be built in a UK national park.
Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA), which first approved the proposal in June 2010, last month gave planning permission in principle to the development, in heart of the Cairngorms National Park.
But it has already faced two court actions by conservationists, and is now facing a third challenge over the consents for the new settlement as well as 117 new homes in the village of Carrbridge, 300 at Kingussie and 40 at Nethy Bridge.
The Badenoch & Strathspey Conservation Group, the Cairngorms Campaign and the Scottish Campaign for National Parks have lodged an appeal with the UK Supreme Court after losing their earlier Court of Session appearances.
They do not believe such large-scale housing conforms with the principles of a national park.
However the park authority says there is a desperate need for housing which allows people to live and work in the park.
Springfield's chairman Sandy Adam said: "This was a difficult decision. Our business priorities have evolved over last three years.
"Very substantial additions have been made to our land bank with big strategic allocations around Dundee and Perth as well as smaller developments in many new locations. We wish Rothiemurchus every success and continue to work with them on a detailed handover of the project."
But Johnnie Grant of Rothiemurchus Estate said he was confident there would be progress soon.
He added: "An Camas Mòr is already in discussion with other partners and in the meantime is taking forward this project to the next stage of the detailed planning process with the original team and the work carried out by Springfield. It is hoped work will start in spring next year on the first phase of the development which will include 40% affordable housing."
He said they appreciated that in the three years since Springfield became involved, the market had changed and there were new opportunities throughout Scotland. "They now have a lot of other projects in the pipeline and need to concentrate elsewhere," he said.
Roy Turnbull, vice convener of the Badenoch & Strathspey Conservation Group, said it was for others to predict how Springfield's withdrawal would affect the project.
He added: "We continue to have very serious concerns about the potential impacts posed by a development of this scale in such a sensitive location in a National Park. The whole development site lies within the Cairngorm Mountains National Scenic Area and supports ancient woodland and threatened and sensitive species and habitats. In our view there are major implications for nearby designated sites that support some of Scotland's and Europe's most endangered wildlife."
Duncan Bryden, Convener of Cairngorms National Park Authority said: "Springfield Properties have put in a considerable amount of commitment and effort getting An Camas Mòr to the stage where the masterplan and phase one applications could be submitted so we are disappointed they have decided not to continue with their involvement in the project."