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September 7, 2016

Big questions for planning system

Questions of how land is owned and developed, and for whose benefit all sit at the heart of the current land reform debate but apply equally, albeit from a different perspective, to our planning system. Whose interests should have primacy? How conflicts between developers and communities are mediated? Is the planning system a level playing field? The recent Planning Review concluded that community interests are best served when they engage early in the planning process. Those communities around Park of Keir near Stirling, who incidentally have been a model of early engagement, might take issue with that.   


RAGE Park of Keir

Read more on Protect Park of Keir website

The developers have decided to appeal the Stirling Council decision not to let them build on the protected green belt area of Park of Keir. The decision now goes to the Scottish government.
So this now provides a clear decision for our government about what sort of country we want Scotland to be. Do we see gaps on the map as places to walk, run, cycle and enjoy, or somewhere to build hotels, houses and sports centres? Do we celebrate and preserve the beauty of our landscape, or give in to the supporters of development who describe Park of Keir as just a field by a roundabout?
To adapt some words from Norman MacCaig (he was writing about Assynt but the principle applies to the whole of Scotland): Who possesses this landscape, the millionaires who bought it as an investment, or we the local people who are possessed by it?

What this decision is definitely not about is whether Scotland would benefit from a new tennis centre. Of course the country would benefit from this. But to sacrifice Park of Keir for this purpose is to suggest it is the only place available. Of course it isn’t. There are countless brown field sites that could be used. But there is only one Park of Keir. It has stood here undeveloped since the last ice age. Once it has gone it will be gone forever.

We the local people who have opposed the plans to build on Park of Keir for over two decades have learned a lot about what the money of the millionaires can buy: the lawyers, the PR Company, the leaflets and the publicity campaign, the access to celebrities and to the reporters on national papers, the twist and spin.
To give one example of what appears to be cynical spin, the millionaires who own this land suggest, in their appeal to the Scottish Government that one of their reasons for wanting to build here is that they want to “enhance and provide greater access to the natural environment”.

Then why did they place boulders on the edge of Park of Keir about 4 years ago blocking the parking spaces used by local people before going for a walk?
And why, only last summer, did they place new barbed wire fences across walking routes used for generations?
So here’s a challenge to the millionaires. If you are serious about wanting to “provide greater access” to Park of Keir, please remove your boulders so we can park here again and please place styles over your new fences so we can walk here again. If you don’t do this, and do this right now, it could be argued that this exposes an attempt to mislead and manipulate the Scottish government.

When you drive north on the M9 there is a magic moment when you crest the hill past Stirling and the view opens up. There is the castle over your right shoulder, the Wallace Monument on its crag beyond that, and beyond that, the steep scarp of the Ochil Hills. To your left the Carse of Stirling stretches all the way to Ben Lomond. And then in front of you, as you climb towards Dunblane, are the hills and fields, the pines and beech woods of Park of Keir. Enjoy it while you can. The Scottish government may soon decide that we the local people, and the thousands of tourists passing this way every year, would rather see buildings here.