From time to time the Sunart Community Council receives requests from residents that we take action against an individual or household in the village, because they disagree with their behaviour.
We wish to remind all residents, that the role of a Community Council is to represent matters of community interest to public agencies and other organisations and NOT to become involved in private disputes.
All residents are entitled to go about their private business, living and working in this community. The suggestion that the Community Council can intervene in peoples’ personal affairs is completely at odds with the designated role of a community council, whatever peoples’ personal opinions about the behaviour of others.
We realise this may come as a disappointment to those who perceive the Community Council is disinterested in local matters. On the contrary, your Community Councillors continue to put in a great deal of time on a range of issues, especially recently trying to help combat the effects of the CV19 restrictions on our community.
We are all volunteers who care deeply about this community, and we must always be careful in taking a balanced view and working within the remit given to all community councils.
We continue to welcome correspondence via letter, email, text, or Messenger. Correspondence received is discussed at our monthly meetings unless of an urgent nature.
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Relevant Correspondence – extracted from the Minutes of the October Meeting
Drimnatorran Cemetery Access – As a result of letters received and some published in the De tha Dol? in recent months, the Community Council sought written clarification from Police Scotland and Highland Council on the role of a community council and its jurisdiction.
On receipt of this clarification, Councillors noted the unequivocal confirmation that the role of a community council is to represent community views to public agencies and organisations. There is no role for intervention in private disputes, and we have been advised of this by both Police Scotland and Highland Council.
Email response from Dot Ferguson, Senior Ward Manager (Ross, Skye and Lochaber)
I refer to various emails regarding the above and wish to set out my view of the current situation and the role of the Community Council.
The statutory general purpose of the Community Council is to “ascertain, co-ordinate and express to the local authorities for its area, and to public authorities, the views of the community which it represents, in relation to matters for which those authorities are responsible, and to take such action in the interests of that community as appears to it to be expedient and practicable’’. A CC does not need to come down in favour of one side or another in any dispute, but can reflect all the community views back to the relevant authorities. In my opinion, there is no remit for the CC to become involved in any civil dispute between private parties.
I understand that a few weeks ago a hearse had difficulty in turning with the result that it had to reverse down to the road. It is considered by some parties that there may be potential justification to acquire land by CPO to ease the situation. This has been considered by our Legal Section with the following response:
- Compulsory Purchase (CP) of the turning circle (and or access through Farm buildings) would be inappropriate in the circumstances. CP is a time consuming and costly tool and in this case it’s use would be disproportionate to the benefit to be gained.
- It may be that the former turning circle (and/or access through the farm buildings) was used openly and peaceably for 20 years before the current owners of the Farm blocked it. If this is the case then prescriptive rights may exist. The public can rely on prescriptive rights to insist that the turning circle be unblocked (and/or that the access through the Farm remain clear of obstruction including parked vehicles). If THC were persuaded (perhaps by affidavits) then the Council could write out to the Farm owners to ask them to desist from obstructing public access. Locals would need to approach a local solicitor to formalise affidavits.
- It is difficult to see from aerial photography or maps but it may be that a turning circle could be formed at the point where the access meets the burial ground – this may also require the reinforcement of culverts/bridge over the burn nearest the burial ground. Community Services could be approached to see if this is feasible.
In terms of the requirement to maintain access to the Cemetery, the Title to the land does require the landowner to ensure “the right of access to the general public visiting Drimnatorran Cemetery over the section of the said access road” which is shown in the relevant Title Plan. Highland Council has not adopted the road, but we are entitled to maintain it as it is a public right of way. In August, the Highland Council Access Officer walked from the village via the road and over the bridge to the graveyard returning back along the path by the river. The gates were openable and they cannot recall seeing anything designed to deter or discourage walkers along that route; the gates being openable and there being an albeit tight turning area nearer the graveyard.
Once you have had your discussion, the CC may wish to consider whether it wishes to express the views of the community to the landowner either in writing or by seeking a meeting and equally may also wish to raise the issues formally with the Highland Council.
With regard to future meetings of the Community Council, again I do need to encourage you to have public participation in your meetings. The paid Zoom subscription is only £10 per month (which would avoid the 40 minute meeting limit) and would help with engagement. However, I would support this specific item being taken in private given it refers to an individual and could stray in to personal information. However, both the decision to meet in private and the outcome of the discussion should both be Minuted.
I hope that helps. I’m in meetings most of today, but around tomorrow if you wish to discuss.
Thanks very much.
Dot Ferguson, Senior Ward Manager (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) and Ward Manager (Inverness West)
The Highland Council, Charles Kennedy Building, Achintore Road, Fort William PH33 6RQ
Direct Dial: 01397 707253 Mobile: 07899 067 668
We sought to clarify if the above was a response from both the Access Officer and Legal department:
“it is a composite response incorporating views from our Access Officer and Legal Manager.
The shared view appears to come down in favour of it implying vehicular access as the Title is making reference to a road – further comment as follows: It does not specify vehicle access but I think it reasonable to assume that it included vehicular access and that we may be exercising our rights to maintain it as a “road” under the definition of the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984 which we can certainly do so under the Countryside (Scotland) Act 1967. And yes, we can maintain the road for anyone who has a right to use it so if it is a public vehicular right of way that means we can maintain it for “lesser” uses like horse riders and pedestrians too.”
Response from the local Police
“Following concerns raised by Sunart Community Council in relation to access at Drimnatorran Cemetery PC Campbell contacted the Highland Council Access Officer who had already had communications from Dot Ferguson on behalf of the CC which I believe she has provided an update for. There have been no new complaints made to the Police that local officers are aware of. We are also not aware of any issues or inappropriate behaviour on the days [of] funeral services at the cemetery.”