In a new series of articles, I will be updating Lochaber residents about some of the issues discussed at Highland Council and how they affect them. It’s a behind the scenes look at what councillors are debating and the decisions they are taking. Firstly, we take a look at what looked like a simple Planning, Environment and Development committee agenda, which soon proved controversial.
Protecting our wild spaces
Senior administration councillors and officers, must have assumed that the first committee meeting of the New Year would be a straight forward affair. As the Chairman opened the Planning, Environment and Development Committee, he even optimistically suggested we might conclude business by 12.30pm. Perhaps, he hadn’t anticipated the strong opinions on one particular agenda item, or planned to restrict any debate. However, an “awkward squad” of councillors, including myself, and Councillors Bill Lobban and Jim Crawford, wanted our say on the protection of wild spaces from development and made sure all the issues were debated. The Scottish Government is looking at giving stronger protection to our remaining wild areas, and has asked councils for their opinions on the areas to be protected. Council officers wanted to restrict these areas to the bare minimum, allowing renewable energy companies and other developers to build on these precious natural assets. Read more about the debate here.
Ballachulish Inclined Plane
Many motorists must zip along the A82, through Ballachulish, without a second glance at in important part of our local industrial heritage. The inclined plane took slate down from the quarry, where it was loaded on to wagons before heading to the dressing sheds. The impressive arch remains, with the lower sections of the plane now hidden under the main road. It’s in desperate need of stabilisation and £251,000 of works is planned to safeguard its long-term future and upgrade footpaths in the adjacent slate quarry. It’s over a year ago since I met with heritage officers and the community council to discuss the project and how the council would apply for grants from heritage bodies. At this committee meeting, asked if any immediate remedial work is planned to prevent the undergrowth (or is that overgrowth?) damage this historic monument any further. I am concerned that if we wait until funding is any place more damage will be done. Apparently, it is recommended to undertake all the long-term work at the same time, mainly because of the need to erect costly scaffolding, but this ignores the immediate problem. With a number of local companies experienced in rope-work, wouldn’t this be an easier way to clear the jungle of scrub that is rapidly sprouting and taking over?
Developing derelict land
There’s good news that Scottish Government funding has enabled the council to redevelop two areas of derelict land – the old distillery site at Inverlochy and the vacant Glenborrodale School. This will provide much needed additional council housing in Lochaber. We have already seen the distillery site, which has been an eyesore in Fort William for many years, cleared and work should begin there this month. Likewise, work to convert Glenborrodale School into two homes should start this month once design work is completed.