Aligning built development with sustaining natural heritage

Scotland’s National Parks (NPs) should solidly deliver for nature and biodiversity, for landscape and for a high-quality environment with very high standards for water quality (freshwater and marine), and air quality. Our NPs should be exemplars of genuinely excellent practice. Unfortunately, in spite of much rhetoric, the reality of Scotland’s NPs has, so far, been a very long way from achieving this. The Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) repeatedly fails to ‘conserve and enhance natural and cultural heritage’, which is the 1st aim of NPs in Scotland. For example, the CNPA promotes development in Ancient Woodland and in flower- and fungi-rich meadow, through allocations in Local Plans, and through recommending approval of developments in these important habitats. The provision in the 2000 National Parks Act that if it appears to the CNPA that there is conflict between the 1st aim and other NP aims, the Authority must give greater weight to the 1st aim, needs to be properly respected and made use of. To date it appears to be treated by our National Park Authorities as an issue to be side-stepped, even where conflict is blatant and serious. It is important that a culture exists in National Parks in which conflict between development and natural heritage is realistically appraised, acknowledged and addressed, according to the requirements and intention of the Act. Land allocation for development - National Parks are likely to be rich in special biodiversity, as is the Cairngorms NP. The allocation of land for built development is thus highly likely to erode important biodiverse habitat, agricultural land, or native woodland. From a landscape point of view it is also likely to have adverse impacts. Land for built development in NPs should be treated as a rare commodity and used with great care to fulfil the genuine needs for built development that there are. Land should not be treated as a plentiful resource. While there are some welcome moves towards better appreciating this in the CNPA, we are concerned that a wasteful approach to using land for built development still prevails. Built development disrupts connectivity and selectively impacts some of the most significant lowland habitats which are vital for key biodiversity in the Cairngorms. Designations (e.g. SSSIs) - National Parks should be working towards ensuring that sites that merit designation are given the important protection of such status. Affordable Housing – The CNPA is failing to provide housing that is properly targeted at the people who really need it. To date, the housing model generally used in the CNP is to permit about 25% of a development as “affordable” housing. In some instances, the affordable housing is a higher percentage, and most recently some settlements are to expect 40% affordable housing in developments. However, this still delivers over half of new housing development as not ‘affordable.’ The definition of “affordable housing” is highly problematic. It includes “low-cost housing without subsidy”. This is open market housing (at the less expensive end of the price range, often through being of smaller size) and can be purchased by anyone, including as a 2nd home or a renting holiday home, over which there is no control. Another issue is the 2nd sale of houses initially purchased in a shared arrangement (shared equity/ownership) which is promoted as staying in the affordable sector in perpetuity, but which is in fact sold on the open market (without a burden of affordability) at the 2nd sale, thus generating a higher price to the housing provider (which can be invested in a new-build house). This generates a demand for new build affordable housing and so consumes land in the NP with the inevitable consequences of unsympathetic cramming and expansion of communities, eroding their character and setting and threatening to overwhelm facilities, along with a loss of biodiversity and nature, downgrading of landscape quality, and increasing pressures on both the built and natural environment. From the outset of the CNP Badenoch & Strathspey Conservation Group has argued for the introduction of residency criteria to be applied to new build housing developments, i.e. restricting new house building only for those with proven local need and connection in the Park and with restrictions on subsequent occupancy to those with similar qualifications. This would provide a different housing model that has proved to be successful elsewhere. It would substantially reduce the number of new houses (thereby reducing the impacts on carbon emissions of construction, biodiversity loss, etc) and could successfully target houses at the people who need them and for whom they are intended. To date housing developments in the CNP have not been sustainable, in spite of the 4th aim of National Parks referring to ‘sustainable development’. Rather, development has been at the expense of the environment and there has been a significant down-grading of the natural environment since the start of the NP.

Why the contribution is important

Because the 1st aim of National Parks in Scotland has not been adequately delivered.

by badenochandstrathspeyconservationgroup on June 06, 2022 at 04:53PM

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