Consultation is underway on a proposed amendment to Scotland's planning system that would bring the construction of vehicle tracks in the hills under planning control for the first time. Members of the public can comment - if they're prepared to negotiate a bit of mild bureaucracy.
At present a new access track can be built for agricultural or forestry purposes without requiring a planning application, and this Permitted Development loophole has allowed landowners to build tracks almost anywhere they like, with no public accountability. According to conservation groups unrestrained track construction has scarred valuable landscapes, damaging peat, affecting hydrology and compromising the wild quality of many hill areas. Newly excavated tracks not marked on any map proliferate all over the Highlands, and are often built to give easier access to deer stalking and grouse shooting rather than for agriculture or forestry.
In the Scottish Government's Consultation on The Town and Country Planning (Scotland) General Permitted Development Amendment Order 2012 changes are proposed to bring access tracks under planning control, so that any new tracks would require planning permission.
The Mountaineering Council of Scotland (MCofS) has led a vocal campaign on the issue, attracting support from many MSPs.
According to the MCofS the amendment would help to ensure that new private roads and ways are permitted only where it can be clearly demonstrated by the applicant that they are:
- Absolutely necessary and that no suitable alternative solution exists
- Well-designed to minimise any potential long term/permanent adverse visual impact on mountain landscapes, including local Special Landscape Areas and areas of 'wild land' which lack any specific national or local landscape designation to protect them from inappropriate development
- Maintained within the track boundary and not widened without specific permission
MCofS Chief Officer, David Gibson said:
'We support the proposed changes to Class 18, Class 22 and Class 27. We agree that to remove permitted development rights for private roads and ways is the only practical solution to a problem which has become increasingly controversial under self-regulation by land owners, and which shows no signs of abating.'
'In making our response to the Consultation, we would like to recognise the efforts of the many individuals and organisations who have made the proposed amendment possible through their support for the original campaign. I would urge all those interested in protecting Scotland's mountains and wild land from the proliferation of hill tracks to respond to the Consultation and support the proposed amendments to Classes 18, 22 and 27.'
The consultation document can be accessed here, together with instructions for anyone wishing to register their comments (easier said than done, as is the nature of such things - Q5 is the relevant bit on the response form).
The deadline for responses is 22 June.