Jacobite experts have warned against a developer’s plans to build a lorry park on the site of a 1715 Jacobite battlefield and the world’s oldest Roman frontier road.
A London-based firm called GB Grove wants to build a petrol station, truck stop and restaurants at Firs of Kinbuck, near Dunblane.
But historical experts warn the development could envelop “an essential part” of the Sheriffmuir battle site and historic Roman road, which Jacobites camped beside ahead of the famous face-off with the Duke of Argyll at the height of the 1715 Jacobite rising.
The Scottish Battlefield Trust and Jacobite expert Dr Alastair Mann told The Ferret that valuable archaeological finds could be present at the site, and called for stronger planning legislation and processes.
“Being where thousands of Jacobites camped and prepared for battle, as well as where some of them retreated, this is first and foremost a site for archaeological and historical investigation and appreciation, not questionable development,” said Dr Alastair Mann, a Jacobite expert and senior Scottish history lecturer at Stirling University.
GB Grove Limited has appealed to the Scottish Government to approve the development after it was rejected by Stirling Council in September 2021.
Ancient maps dating back to 1715 confirm that the Roman road, the main road north until the late eighteenth century, ran from Ashfield across the Glassingall Estate towards the A9, Mann said.
Allowing large-scale developments would block “archaeological and historical efforts to discover what these areas of land have to tell us about the past,” he added.
According to Historic Scotland, the battle of Sheriffmuir was “the only major engagement in Scotland during the 1715 Jacobite Rising” and involved “one of the largest Jacobite armies ever fielded in Scotland”.
The Scottish Battlefields Trust said that Sheriffmuir was designated as “a nationally significant site” by Historic Environment Scotland. “A range of other heritage assets around it means it’s a special landscape that requires sensitive treatment,” said Dr Arran Johnston, the charity’s director.
“We’re not convinced that this particular proposal recognises that sufficiently and would definitely be an inappropriate intervention into a historic landscape.”
Johnston called for stronger planning legislation and processes which, he said, do not recognise the historical significance of such sites. Battlefields sites at Culloden, Bannockburn and Pinkie Cleugh have also faced development threats in recent years, Johnston stressed.
“It’s often left to people like ourselves, special interest groups or simply concerned local community members to have to defend nationally significant sites,” he added.
A 2019 Stirling Council planning memo by Dr Murray Cook, the council’s archaeologist, confirmed the proposed development site lies “specifically in the location over which the Jacobites advanced on the morning of the battle”.
The rush to battle left “a clear possibility that objects associated with troop movements will have been dropped”, said Cook. While forestry activity may have destroyed some artefacts, “the more robust or discrete will have survived as indicated from other metal detection surveys in other locations on this battlefield,” he said.
Cook did not object to the development but recommended the site be excavated to seek out artefacts.
Historic Environment Scotland (HES) also did not object to the proposals, saying it “would affect a relatively small area” of the battlefield. The adjacent A9 and overhead power lines would have already impacted the battlefield, which lies on ground that has previously been disturbed, said a spokesperson.
HES advised the council to ensure the development would have no “adverse impacts” on the battlefield’s “special qualities and key landscape characteristics,” the spokesperson said.
They added: “Any adverse impacts should be reduced or avoided by mitigation, where possible, during detailed planning.”
The controversial truck stop proposals have been subject to a lengthy and costly planning battle. Planning Democracy said this raised “serious questions” about Scotland’s planning system.
The Ferret reported in December that council planning officials warned the lorry park would breach nine policies in the council’s local development plan, such as impacting the environment and greenbelt, and not supporting town centres.
They concluded there was no need for a local roadside service station and noted the development had been rejected from the 2014 and 2018 local development plans.
Kinbuck Community Group and Dunblane Community Council opposed the development on similar grounds, while 99 local objections were raised. The bid was approved when Conservative councillors, who made up a majority of the planning panel, backed the development, citing potential economic benefits.
Local residents challenged the decision successfully in a February 2021 judicial review in the Court of Session. The council did not fight the case or challenge the court’s decision. Residents were awarded legal costs, which were covered by taxpayer cash.
The bid returned to the planning panel in September 2021, with all councillors voting against the proposals. Now, GB Grove’s appeal will put the development’s future in the hands of the government, who will decide whether it goes ahead.
An appeal statement by the project’s agent, Graham + Sibbald, argued that the council did not properly take into account the merits of the project, which it claimed would meet the government’s definition of a “sustainable development”.
Construction requirements would create about 54 local jobs and Tayside and central Scotland are in need of overnight lorry facilities, claimed Kerri McGuire, partner.
The inclusion of electric vehicle charging points at the lorry park would support the government’s aspiration to make the A9 an ‘Electric Highway’, she added.
McGuire did not respond to our request to comment.
Local Green councillor, Alasdair Tollemache, said the “unwelcome development” was “turned down by the planning panel at the second attempt following consistent recommendations from officers to reject.”
He added: “There is a big concern over road safety being a development adjacent to the A9.”
Photo Credit: Ailsa Gray
Update: We edited this article at 16:56 on 19 January to remove an incorrect claim that councillor Tollemache was a member of Stirling Council’s planning panel.