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Protestors urge 'change of heart' over plans to develop old Portessie station site

By Alan Beresford

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THE bid to save the old Portessie railway station site from a housing development saw protestors turn out in force.

Members of the Slochy Woodlands Preservation Group (SWPG) and others turned out at the site adjacent to 1-5 Station Raod to make their feelings clear in a bid to cause a "change of heart" over the project, which would see seven detached houses built on the site.

The application, submitted on behalf of Morlich Homes, was initially refused by planners as it was deemed to run contrary to its environmental ENV5 designation and other policies which aim to "protect and preserve the characteristics of ENV areas".

However, earlier this year the decision was overturned on appeal by the developer after the site was visited by a Scottish Government reporter from the Directorate for Planning and Environmental Appeals.

In the document presented to the council's Local Review Body (LRB), planners said: "The environmental and landscape impact upon the relatively small part of the Buckie ENV5 designation can be satisfactorily mitigated through the landscaping proposed by the applicant."

However, news of the decision provoked fury in the local community and beyond. Due to planning laws, the ruling cannot be overturned by any other means than a legal challenge.

While the costs involved have put this beyond the reach of protestors, they have not given up and a petition launched by Eddie Devlin from SWPG has already gained in the region of 5300 signatures.

Mr Devlin said: "A legal challenge could cost up to £30,000 if we lost so it's not a road we can afford to go down.

"We can't appeal but what we do want to do is try and cause a change of heart and stop the development

"At the moment we're creating awareness of the site and gathering evidence and support. Chris Packham from Springwatch has supported what we're doing and we've had an excellent response to the petition.

"The ENV status of the site was changed to brown field at the snap of a finger behind closed doors and the appeal was not well advertised at all."

Mr Devlin has been monitoring the site with cameras, newt traps and other means and has come to the conclusion the area is "bursting with life".

"The area is an oasis for all kinds of wildlife," he continued.

"It's bursting with life – there's healthy populations of newts, birds, foxes and badgers.

"It's not a situation where you can compromise because even if you only developed half the site the work would scare the wildlife away.

"There's a lot of history to the area, too. The old station building and platform is still there, as is the water tower and turntable.

"At the end of the day, it's only seven houses we're talking about."

A Moray Council spokesperson said: "As set out in the report to the Local Review Body, the site is designated as an ENV in the Moray Local Development Plan 2020.

"Following the refusal the developer chose to submit a request to have the decision reviewed by the council’s LRB. All parties who had submitted representations on the planning application – either in support or against – were notified when the LRB case was received and were able to make representations to the LRB.

"None were received within the statutory timescales."

Local councillors Gordon Cowie and Sonya Warren stressed the matter was out of the council's hands.

Councillor Cowie said it was "disappointing" that very strong objections to the project were only now being voiced.

He said: "This site was marketed for sale for some time so locals were aware it was on the market.

"I am not aware that anyone expressed any concern at the time about the value of this site. A small number of people made representations on the planning application, some for and some against, but it's disappointing that very strong views are only being expressed now after the final planning decision has been made.

"In making their decision councillors can only consider what's in the papers before them which would have considered concerns from the community if they had been submitted. Raising these issues after decision is made helps no-one."

Councillor Warren said that had public responses been submitted on time they may well have contributed to a different outcome.

Some planning issues can be more complex others," she continued.

"It has followed due process and any changes to the application now are outwith the hands of the council.

"Hindsight is a great thing and folk now realise that putting their response into the original planning application could have had an effect on the outcome and they would have been informed of the appeal at LRB.

"There has been an amazing amount of work put into this campaign now, however it's in the hands of the developers, as most of their objections did not get heard at LRB due to late submissions."

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