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Warning on new powers to curb hill tracks

NEW controls to be imposed on landowners who cut large tracks into Scotland's hills without any public scrutiny do not go far enough, environmentalists have warned.

Nine charities had campaigned for the Scottish Government to put an end to the scarring of the landscape by unauthorised tracks. They say a loophole under "permitted development rights" has meant landowners who say a new track is needed for forestry or agricultural purposes do not need to apply for planning permission.

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The new rules will introduce a prior notification and approval process so councils will be able to consider how proposed tracks will impact on the environment. It will also allow them to intervene to ensure design, siting and appearance are acceptable.

Helen Todd, co-convener of the Scottish Environment Link hill tracks campaign group, the umbrella organisation, said the new process was a step in the right direction.

However, she added: "We fail to see why landowners should be able to carry on constructing major tracks without the need for any public consultation. The new prior notification process will do little to address this fundamental inequity, which leaves communities, organisations and individuals with little opportunity to comment on new tracks."

Last year there were nearly 70 reports of such new tracks, some of which were used only for shooting parties.

Anne Gray, of landowners' organisation Scottish Land & Estates, said: "We feel the Scottish Government have been too quick to revisit this issue. The decision to better promote best practice was taken a little over 18 months ago and there does not appear to be any substantial new evidence to suggest this approach is not working."

Local Government and Planning Minister Derek Mackay said: "These new controls will ask planning authorities to weigh up proposals and consider all aspects of where the hill tracks will be built, while at the same time allowing work that does not have an adverse impact to proceed with minimal delay or costs."

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