Highlands & Islands

Ministers to act over Highland hill track system

The Scottish government has promised to look at the system which allows Highland estates to put in new hill tracks without planning permission.

Conservationists say the routes are "ugly scars", but landowners say they give vital access to upland areas.

The minister, Stewart Stevenson, has promised to "regularise, systematise and simplify" permitted development rights.

He said he would publish proposals after the parliament's summer recess.

During a debate at Holyrood, Labour MSP Peter Peacock called for "greater public scrutiny" of proposed new hill tracks, and "greater protection" for the land.

He said: "Modern hill tracks are not small or narrow creations.

"Many of them are wider than the single-track roads that are common in the Highlands and Islands."

He called for new tracks to be "the subject of full and proper scrutiny within the planning system".

Mr Stevenson said it was important to achieve the right balance between "aesthetics, environmental impacts and the economic needs of those who live and work in our remote upland areas".

He said the government wanted to ensure estates understand the need for environmental impact assessments.

And he pointed out that the government agency Scottish Natural Heritage is about to start a new initiative to make sure land managers and contractors are aware of the guidance that is already available.

Conservation groups are currently promoting a petition asking for tougher controls on new hill tracks.

But the Scottish Rural Property and Business Association said the routes were vital to maintain and manage upland areas.

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