Protecting Scotland’s Heritage: Who’s Minding The Store?

The Garva bridge was built in 1731 by General Wade's Briish troops.

The Garva bridge was built in 1731 by General Wade’s Briish troops.

Prestonpans, Garva bridge, Culloden and other iconic Scottish heritage sites are threatened by the growth and development bug.  Is Scotland protecting its most important environmental and heritage assets?

Last year, COSCA became engaged in the debate about whether new homes, roads and infrastructure should be built within an area adjacent to the NTS Culloden Battlefield park and within the boundary of Historic Scotland’s own inventory of significant historic sites. Without rehashing the stunning indifference to heritage shown in the planning process by the Scottish government, suffice it to say that COSCA was in favor of protection and against further disturbance of this most sacred of places to so many across the world.

We came away from the opening heat of that still smoldering battle with a real concern that no one was watching the heritage store in Scotland and those who drive land development had an open running field ahead across irreplaceable Scottish treasures. Fast forward to December 30 last month when we hear again of more foxes in the Scottish heritage hen house this time at Prestonpans, another 18th century iconic British – Jacobite battlefield. George Kerevan writes in The Scotsman that “Scotland’s public bodies must reassess their priorities and put preservation before profit.” Oh oh.

While the Culloden developers could cry that their impact was small, not so much at Prestonpans where plans call for 42 camps, 75 heliports, 3,800 “drop-zones” and 2,343 miles of pathway cut in the forest to facilitate a giant energy development. Historic Scotland withdrew objections at the final stage following what Kerevan calls “cosmetic changes” to the scheme. Why asks Kerevan? Because “our public regulatory and heritage bodies have been subverted in the last few decades into commercial agencies, run by staff imported by the private sector.” Yep, that’s how its done in America too.

A Barbaric Scheme To Mar Garva Bridge and Corrieyairack Pass. It is not only Culloden and Prestonpans involved in this assault. Plans to build a 25 acre electric substation near a 300 year old bridge used by Bonnie Prince Charlie during the ’45 uprising have been called nothing short of ‘barbaric’ by noted outdoorsman Cameron McNeish. “The latest plan from the power company … will completely transform an area of land that is loved by many, an area that lies only metres from the boundary of the Cairngorm National Park.” The John Muir Trust has filed a petition to stop the windfarm that would make the Garva substation a necessity. The Garva Bridge was built by General Wade’s British troops in 1731 in his drive to open the Highlands to British troops so they might more effectively root out the barbaric highland culture that occupied the hills. Who needs reminders of that sort of thing today anyway.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Parliament has paved the way for a new body to be set up to oversee the management and protection of Scotland’s heritage. Actually, it’s a mash up of two existing bodies, Historic Scotland and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS). The new outfit is more sparingly named Historic Environment Scotland. We certainly hope that the title slim-down is not reflecting a corresponding thinning of Scotland’s commitment to its historic build environment. Scotland has also rolled out a new historic built environment strategy called “Our Place In Time” and it is aimed to ensure that “heritage is protected and promoted while providing real and increasing benefits to Scotland’s people.” Hmm.

The new body isn’t projected to actually be up and functioning until October 2015. Government projects, right. So what is the plan to make sure nothing really horrific slips through until the A Team is on the field in October or later? If it is going to be an effort such what we are currently seeing at Prestonpans, Culloden and Garva, expect those who seek development over preservation to have a field day in Scotland in 2015.

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