Stein decision highlights a “broken planning system”

PHOTO: Wilie Urquhart/WHFP

Despite the opposition of Skye and Lochalsh councillors, a controversial planning application for a house in Stein on the Waternish peninsula was approved by Highland Council’s north planning committee this week.

Local opponents of the new build were “shocked and deeply disappointed” by the decision, and see it as evidence of a “broken” planning system.

Plans by Huw and Johanne Morgan, the absentee owners of listed building Lochbay House, to construct a “very contemporary” two-bedroom house nearby attracted widespread objections in the area, with dozens submitted to the council.

At a committee meeting on Tuesday of this week, council planner Mark Harvey said applications for two other properties in the area submitted by the couple were withdrawn while Mr and Mrs Morgan “consider reworking the proposals in terms of siting and design.” This was because Historic Environment Scotland had adopted a “strict view” of the settlement pattern, he said.

PHOTO: Willie Urquhart/WHFP

However, the application for the two-bedroom house “did not have a significant impact on the character” of the area’s conservation designation, Mr Harvey added. Officials recommended approval.

A motion tabled by Skye councillor John Gordon to reject the application was seconded and supported by Lochalsh councillor Biz Campbell and fellow Skye councillor Calum MacLeod. It was defeated by eight votes to six.

A statement on behalf of a number of Stein locals opposed to the Morgans’ development said: “Obviously, the community is shocked and deeply disappointed at the decision made at planning committee yesterday.

“It is widely felt that what we are seeing is the result of a planning system that is broken. A system that has lost all integrity of intention and total collapse in community trust and respect. Everyone is talking about it.

“It would seem, that a system of double standards exists, where one set of rules apply to the long-standing residents and a different set for the speculative, corporate developer who demonstrates no understanding interest or empathy for local heritage or the community they impose their developments on.

“The progress of this application through planning has totally failed to uphold the objective of the conservation area and fails to recognise the importance of the setting of the listed building. Neither does it take account of the numerous natural heritage and wildlife issues raised.”

Approving the application “makes a mockery of the term conservation area and neither does the proposal comply with the terms” of Highland Council’s own local plan, the statement said.

It added: “From the moment this application, with very significant potential for detrimental impact, was accepted into the system amidst the strictest part of the pandemic lockdown, it has been felt that it sought to subvert the right of the local community to fair comment.”