Local Government and Planning Minister, Derek Mackay announced on Wednesday that he had revisited an earlier decision on the regulation of farm and forestry tracks and now proposes the introduction of a prior notification and approval process. This is likely to be introduced later this year.
Mr Mackay said:
“Without proper controls and effective enforcement measures, the construction of hilltracks can damage our environment.
“Some hilltracks can undercut the hillside and lead to side banks collapsing and hilltracks can cause damage to wild animal habitat.
“In contrast well-constructed tracks can minimise negative impacts on the environment, and in the moorlands can often prevent damage to ground nesting birds and their eggs.
“That’s why it’s important that planning policy strikes the right balance between meeting the needs of rural businesses but also it protects Scotland’s environment, amenity and heritage.
“These new controls will ask planning authorities to weigh up proposals and consider all aspects of where the hilltracks will be built, while at the same time allowing work that does not have an adverse impact to proceed with minimal delay or costs.”
Anne Gray, of Scottish Land & Estates, who met with the Minister prior to this latest announcement said: “The Minister has recognised that hill tracks are an important aspect of rural development and landowners – many of whom are committed conservationists – understand that a balance has to be struck to help meet the needs of rural businesses while protecting the environment and natural heritage. We acknowledge there have been concerns about the impact of some tracks and, while we understand the Minister’s reasons for seeking to introduce a system of prior notification for private roads and ways across Scotland, we feel the Scottish Government have been too quick to revisit this issue. The decision to better promote best practice was taken a little over 18 months ago and there does not appear to be any substantial new evidence to suggest this approach is not working.
“Nevertheless, the new measures if introduced in full should mean that in the vast majority of cases, farmers and foresters will need to do nothing more than submit a written description of the work they intend to carry out to their planning authority. Since most tracks will not be contentious, work can go ahead after 28 days of submission of notification. We believe there may be a case though for reconsidering whether prior notification is necessary for forestry tracks given the existing extensive approval processes forestry and associated tracks go through. Ultimately much depends on how the new legislation is implemented and we seek to be fully involved in the process of developing guidance for planning authorities on this matter.”
Scottish Land & Estates is working with Scottish Natural Heritage and the Heather Trust on a series of best practice events for tracks construction. The first of these events will take place in conjunction with Cairngorms National Park Authority this autumn.