Whiteness – A New Coastal Development

Stewart Fulton, Planning Consultant to the Whiteness Property Company, told the conference about the latest plans for this new coastal town and marina. The Story so far……

Whiteness Aerial View

Whiteness is an extraordinary site by any standards, and careful thought was clearly needed to ensure its future.

The former North Sea Oil Platform Construction Yard at Ardersier was offered up for sale in the spring of 2004. The sellers, McDermotts, wanted a quick sale. They also wanted proposals for an acceptable after-use and to be indemnified against any subsequent claims arising from contamination on the site.

The Whiteness Property Company assessed the situation: soundings were taken from central and local government bodies; the flood risk issues were considered; the position was checked in respect of the statutory Development Plan and the EU Natural Heritage designations that attend the site. Then negotiations began with McDermotts.

The company proposed to create a new community designed to cater for the strong and developing markets in both housing and sailing. Cutting edge place making techniques would be used, avoiding displacement issues. McDermotts were happy with the proposal and Whiteness Property Company formally acquired the site in November 2004.

In recognition of the special quality of the site, the company consulted the Royal Incorporation of Architects for Scotland and from a short-list of firms equal to the task of creating a special place at Whiteness, Sir Terry Farrell was appointed, together with a supporting group of consultants, to prepare the planning application and Masterplan for the site.

The company commitment from the outset was to work systematically, sensibly, collaboratively and transparently at all times, speaking to anyone with an interest as the process unfolded. The Master plan was completed and the composite planning application, prepared at a cost of around £ 750,000, was submitted to the Highland Council in December 2006.

Much of 2006 was taken up with the planning application consultation process. Many promises were made – all of which will be kept – and although legal agreements were offered to doubters, none were taken up.

The approach taken had a number of unique features, including the procurement of a new Whiteness Marina Harbour Revision Order replacing McDermotts’ old Harbour Order and the eventual creation of a Trust to which land with the highest natural heritage value will be gifted in perpetuity to the future residents of Whiteness.
Access and Marine Management Plans will also be prepared. The Marine Plan will cover growth of boat numbers, mooring leasing conditions, the appointment of a Sea Ranger, the development of a Whiteness Marine Advisory Chart, and monitoring and research programmes.

Highland Council held a Hearing into the application in November 2006, which culminated in an unanimous resolution to support the application, subject to a number of reserved matters and conditions. These included a Section 75 Agreement being drawn up and notification of the application to the Scottish Executive as a Structure Plan Departure on housing grounds.

2007 saw negotiations with Scottish Natural Heritage and the Ministry of Defence on the terms of the Section 75 Agreement and in August the Scottish Executive returned the application to the Highland Council for final determination. The Section 75 was duly signed by the remaining three signatories, lodged with the Keeper in Edinburgh, and consent was finally issued in November 2007.

The site has now been cleaned and cleared to the highest standards, using sustainable means. Every piece of metal has been recycled and all concrete work is being dug out and crushed into reusable aggregate sizes.

The ground is now being surveyed in accordance with a programme agreed with the Highland Council, to ensure that it meets all the required standards for land for human habitation.

The evolution of the A96 Corridor Plan and Protocol pioneered by the Highland Council is also important. This introduces a new way of moving forward on the basis of shared large scale infrastructure costs and is an initiative fully supported by Whiteness Property Company.

Plans for infrastructure provision are now well advanced, and the next major exercise is to draw up a detailed planning application for Whiteness. Our ultimate goal - to transfer a derelict, contaminated and obsolete industrial site into a major new community at the forefront of placemaking in Scotland - moves further toward becoming a reality.

Points of View drawn from my experience with Whiteness Property Company.

Planning Permission: Outline and Detail
It is now clear to me that the concept of planning permission is simply not compatible with the level of detail required to ensure that EU Natural Heritage designations are properly protected. The advice and procedures relating thereto need to be reviewed and altered.

Responsible Access
It often appears that the Scottish Government is at odds with its statutory advisors, who in order to protect the EU designated areas are seeking to have responsible access replaced by regulated access at Whiteness.

Third Party Appeals
Successive governments have declined to entertain Third Party Appeal systems, where consents are granted for bad or unpopular developments.

However, where Special Protected Area (SPA) and Special Area of Conservation (SAC) designations are concerned, developers are vulnerable to complaints to the EU. Such complaints are tantamount to a form of inequitable Third Party Appeal system which catches some but not others.

Designation and Protection
The Moray Firth SAC designation generates responsibilities to protect, without appropriate powers and funding to deliver protection. It would be interesting to know whether the principles of responsible access apply equally at sea.

Policy Vacuum
Landward development plans have a clear statutory purpose and are prepared with full public participation. Why are there no equivalent marine plans? No corporate expressions of marine policy? No comprehensive publicly funded research programme? No clearly articulated appreciation of the carrying capacity of marine areas? A common purpose is required to overtake the current piecemeal approach which is punctuated by discontent, anxiety, and trials of strength.

Leadership and Commitment
Leadership and commitment are needed - to draw out the best use of all the existing powers; to promote environmental education opportunities, and creative thinking; and to secure the integrity of the SAC by these means until something better turns up.

The Moray Firth Partnership working together with the SAC Management Group, currently seem best placed to provide that.
Sectorial working has hampered progress in Scotland since time immemorial - there is no substitute for genuine partnership.

The Blue Framework Plan
The imaginative and purposeful work being carried out by the Highland Council on the A96 Development Corridor includes a Green Framework Plan, covering all the land in between the proposed areas of development. The cost of this will be shared amongst all the relevant public and private sector interests.

The Moray Firth area is the only economic growth area outwith the central belt in the Government National Plan. The Firth itself is an area of national and international natural heritage significance. It is the foundation of tourism, recreation, and economic activity in the area and a vital commercial artery for Inverness Harbour and the Caledonian Canal. It is also a key training area for the Ministry of Defence. Given the importance of the Moray Firth area, is it not time for everyone to pool their resources and look to the production of Scotland’s first “Blue Framework Plan”?