October 6, 2008

Critics Fell Plans for Woodland Eco-Village Green Homes Withdrawn After Fierce Opposition Green Homes Withdrawn After Fierce Opposition ENVIRONMENT: COMMUNITY

By Rob Edwards Environment Editor

THE Forestry Commission has withdrawn a plan to build a green community in an ancient woodland in the wake of fierce opposition from environmental groups and local residents.

The commission's controversial application for 32 "sustainable" homes in Kilnhill Wood near Nairn was facing rejection by Highland Council's local planning committee on Tuesday, in line with a recommendation from officials.

Late on Friday, however, after inquiries by the Sunday Herald, the commission decided to pull the application. "The plan has been withdrawn to address concerns raised by the planners, " said a commission spokesman. "It will be resubmitted at some stage."

The Forestry Commission first announced its plan for an eco- village at Kilnhill a year ago, including energy efficiency, renewable energy, recycling and home-working to minimise travel.

It would represent "a new vision for forest living", the commission claimed.

Although the proposal was backed by the Scottish Green Party, it was condemned as the "murder" of a woodland and its wildlife by conservation groups. An ecological study found that the wood supported red squirrels, otters, pine martens, bats and badgers.

To make room for the houses, the commission was planning to cut down up to 70per cent of the trees in the building zones and 30- 40per cent in surrounding areas.

Kilnhill, which includes native species such as Scots pine and juniper, is listed on the UK ancient woodland inventory and dates back at least 400 years.

Along with the 32 houses, the plan also included eight holiday chalets and other associated facilities. But opponents argued that encouraging holidaymakers to fly up to Aberdeen to stay in the woods was not very environmentally friendly.

In a report to Highland Council's local planning committee, officials urged rejection of the application because it was contrary to the local plan. They were not satisfied that wildlife would be adequately protected, and concerned about the increase in traffic on singletrack roads.

The Forestry Commission's surprise decision to put the plan on hold has been widely welcomed, though there are still concerns about its future plans.

Conservation groups are promising to keep a close watch on the commission's next move.

"As originally drawn, the commission's plan to build an eco- village would have resulted in the loss of woodland of high conservation value, " said Andrew Fairbairn, of forest campaign group the Woodland Trust Scotland.

The woodland is home to many valuable plants, such as wood sorrel and chickweed wintergreen. The proposed development could have led to "hundreds of years of evolution going up in smoke", Fairbairn warned.

The Friends of Kilnhill Wood, a group formed by local residents to protect the woodland, urged the Forestry Commission to abandon the plan altogether.

"The whole idea has wasted countless thousands of tax pounds, " said the group's chairman, Stephen Gray.

"It is totally unacceptable for the Forestry Commission to put everyone through the mill like this, withdraw at the 11th hour and then want to start all the nonsense again. I cannot see how any proposal for Kilnhill could be approved when so much is wrong with the original concept."

The former Green MSP, Eleanor Scott, who is standing as a candidate for co-convenor of the Scottish Green Party, argued that there was a need for sustainable housing around Nairn. "The Forestry Commission must now make more changes to the scheme which could help build support, " she said.



A plan for an eco-village in a woodland near Nairn has been withdrawn at the last minute by the Forestry Commission.


Kilnhill Wood covers 50 hectares and is next to the Culbin Sands, Culbin Forest and Findhorn Bay, a Site of Special Scientific Interest.


www. forestry. gov. uk Forestry Commission.

www. highland. gov. uk Highland Council.

www. woodlandtrust. org. uk Woodland Trust website.

Originally published by Newsquest Media Group.

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