CONTROVERSIAL plans for a new town between Inverness and Nairn featuring almost 5000 homes have been reluctantly backed today, despite a storm of protest from angry Highland councillors.
Tornagrain will be built off the A96 trunk road near Croy and take up to 40 years to complete, with five schools, businesses, shops and community facilities constructed in a town for 10,000 people.
The huge scheme, proposed by Moray Estates, was criticised by several members of the south planning applications committee at a meeting in the city today after councillors carried out a site visit.
Culloden and Ardersier councillor Roddy Balfour claimed it was in the wrong place, was too big and predicted there would not be enough jobs for the incoming residents.
But when the veteran councillor attempted to table a motion to refuse the scheme, backed by Inverness Central colleague Richard Laird, he was told by the committee’s solicitor Susan Blease that his reasons were not competent.
The committee was told that if the application was rejected the likelihood was that the developer could appeal to the Scottish Government because the site was designated for housing in the council’s Highland wide development plan and probably win.
That prompted angry scenes in the council chamber in Inverness and councillors asked what was the point in them debating the new town if they could not make a decision.
Nine councillors on the 19-strong committee formally indicated they wanted their dissent to be recorded at the situation which was described as “terrible” by Inverness South councillor Jim Crawford.
“Why are we here?,” he said. “Why did we go on a site visit and are we having three hour discussions on something which we can have no outcome on? The chair knew and the planners must have known that we can’t object to this.”
Councillor Laird said he was torn by his belief that the application should be rejected but was concerned that an appeal would cost the local authority a lot of money.
“I want my dissent to be recorded,” he said.
Committee member Thomas Prag, who backed the application, said it could still affect the outline planning scheme because of the strict condition attached.
The devveloper is expected to seek full planning consent early in 2013.
Moray Estates has said the town, which will be constructed in several phases, would showcase traditional architecture and set up a “sustainable” community boasting a high quality of life.
Tornagrain, which is a 259-hectacre site near Inverness Airport, was first proposed seven years ago and designed by leading American architect Andres Duany.
Five local community councils and 53 individuals and groups had voiced their objections.
Local people were worried about extra traffic using the A96, while community councils for Westhill, Croy and Culloden Moor, Cawdor and West Nairnshire, and Nairn River were anxious over the potential loss of agricultural land and lack of infrastructure.
But the council’s planning team leader David Mudie said national guidelines allowed good agricultural land to be used for housing.
The Highlands and Islands Green Party had warned Tornagrain would drain people, jobs and infrastructure investment from other parts of the region.
Work on the first phase, which will include 150 homes, is set to start in a year’s time or early 2014, with shops and facilities also created at the same time.