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Last charge in battle of Culloden housing plan

The Jacobite army of Bonnie Prince Charlie stood at Culloden hungry, exhausted but ready for battle against the odds.

Bonnie Prince Charlie's cause was lost on Culloden Moor, top right
Bonnie Prince Charlie's cause was lost on Culloden Moor, top right

And 268 years and a few days later, opponents to a housing development near the battlefield outside Inverness are hoping to harness the defiant spirit of Charles Stuart's doomed clansmen.

A protest against the building of homes at a site close to the field where the Jacobite uprising of 1746 was finally defeated is due to take place this afternoon, following yesterday's commemoration of the April 16 battle.

Opponents of the plan to build 16 new houses around 400 metres from the historic site, which was granted permission by the Scottish Government despite Highland Council initially turning down the application, have said they will "fight to the last clash of a broadsword" to stop the building work and are hoping to apply pressure on influential MSPs and Historic Scotland in a desperate bid to achieve a U-turn.

However, Highland Council says it is unwilling to challenge the Government's decision in the Court of Session, after its earlier opposition to an appeal left the authority with an £11,000 bill for the developer's fees.

Opponents to the housing development by Inverness Properties fear that building so close to the battlefield will damage the site and set a worrying precedent for future development nearby. More applications to build new properties near the battlefield have been made since the application was granted.

Meanwhile, the developer has argued that the homes will not be visible from the battlefield site and that the development will take place in an area already developed and occupied by farm buildings - a position supported by Historic Scotland, which did not object to the application.

Colin Williamson, spokesman for the opposition group, accused Historic Scotland of "abdicating responsibility" for the battlefield although on the inventory of Historic Battlefields, Culloden is not afforded any specific statutory protection.

Williamson added: "Our official position is that, like the beleaguered and starving army, we will fight to the last clash of a broadsword. Until there's absolutely no room to manoeuvre, we'll try to stop what we view as the desecration of this ground."

Following the Battle of Culloden, Bonnie Prince Charlie set off on his legendary escape to France while under pursuit. Keen to prevent further rebellion, the Government struck at the power of the clans by depriving them of weapons and legal powers while dismantling Highland society. Culloden proved to be the last pitched battle on British soil, with the loss of more than 2000 lives.

The plan to build new homes near the battleground is believed to have attracted concern from Prince Charles, while an online petition has attracted nearly 17,000 signatures. Hopes had been raised that the development may not go ahead when businessman David Sutherland bought the land from Inverness Properties and indicated he may be willing to strike a deal with National Trust for Scotland, which owns the battlefield and strongly opposes the development. However, his intentions remain unclear.

Ken Gowans, an Inverness South councillor who is against the development, said he had accepted that the new homes were likely to be built on what he considers "a very important site in world history".

He added: "We're at the stage now where I think realistically it is unlikely we will be able to stop the 16-house development. The protesters are very, very passionate and the last thing I want to do is admit defeat, but I'm trying to urge them to be realistic, and we've exhausted all the legal means that we could have realistically put forward.

"I met with the solicitors in the council to assess the likelihood of an appeal succeeding. It didn't take us long to realise it would be unlikely and we're not in the business of spending public money in the Court of Session unless we're likely to win.

"What I'm doing now is working with officers in the council to bring forward a more robust planning policy around the battlefield in particular and historical sites in general to afford them much more protection from developers. We may lose this particular skirmish but we'll win the battle."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "An appeal cannot be recalled once the final decision is issued. Scottish ministers can only accept or reject the reporter's recommendation if they recall a case for their decision prior to the final decision being issued. In this case the Scottish ministers did not recall the case and the reporter's decision is final, subject to an appeal to the Court of Session.

"With respect to the application at Culloden, the reporter has followed the proper appeal process and agreed with Historic Scotland's view that because the proposed houses are to be built on a developed site - which currently houses disused agricultural buildings - the new development would not have an adverse impact on the integrity of the battlefield."

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