Fashion designer Stella McCartney and her husband Alasdhair Willis have faced a major setback in their bid to build a £5 million modernist mansion on a remote plot in the Scottish Highlands. The Highland council has rejected their planning application after receiving more than 50 objections from local residents, environmental groups, and woodland experts.
The controversial design
The couple had bought the 12-acre site, known as Commando Rock, near Lochailort in 2022. They had hired Brown and Brown Architects to design an “unashamedly contemporary” house that would have a green roof, natural stone walls, and large glass windows to capture the stunning views of the landscape. The architects claimed that the house would be a “complementary addition” to the area and that it would respect the natural environment.
However, many people disagreed with their vision and argued that the house would be a “monstrous carbuncle” that would spoil the beauty and tranquility of the Highland scenery. They also raised concerns about the potential impact of the construction on the wildlife, the trees, the access to the beach, and the historical significance of the site, which was used by the Commandos during World War II.
The public opposition
Among the objectors were the Woodland Trust Scotland, the John Muir Trust, the Scottish Wildlife Trust, and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. They cited various reasons for their opposition, such as the loss of ancient woodland, the risk of flooding, the disturbance of otters and other protected species, and the lack of adequate sewage treatment.
The local residents also voiced their strong objections, saying that the house would be out of keeping with the character and scale of the existing buildings in the area. They also accused the couple of being insensitive to the local culture and heritage, and of trying to impose their urban lifestyle on the rural community.
One of the objectors, Ranald Macpherson, who owns a neighbouring property, said: “The proposed development is clearly a striking modern building, designed to take full advantage of the unparalleled views and location. However, it is wholly out of keeping, in style and in scale, with the other buildings nearby.”
Another objector, Dr Peter Langhorne, said: “I do not oppose (in principle) a modest, sympathetically designed house on that site. This proposal does not meet those criteria.”
And Sam Seccombe, a wildlife conservationist, said: “As a regular visitor and a professional wildlife conservationist I have to object to this planning application. I believe this new enlarged modern dwelling will spoil the natural beauty of this landscape and become a carbuncle on the bluff, clearly visible by both day and night due to its prominent positioning and large illuminated windows.”
The council decision
The Highland council’s planning committee met on Friday to decide on the fate of the couple’s application. After hearing from the applicants, the objectors, and the planning officers, the committee voted unanimously to refuse the permission. The committee agreed that the house would have an adverse impact on the visual amenity, the natural heritage, and the historic environment of the area. They also said that the house would not comply with the local development plan and the national planning policy.
The committee’s convener, Councillor Maxine Smith, said: “This was a very difficult decision for the committee, as we recognise the applicants’ desire to build their dream home in this beautiful location. However, we have to balance that with the views of the local community and the wider public interest. We have concluded that the proposed house would be inappropriate and unacceptable in this sensitive and scenic area, and that it would cause significant harm to the natural and cultural assets that make the Highlands so special.”
The couple have the right to appeal the decision to the Scottish government within three months. It is not clear whether they will pursue this option or look for another site for their Highland retreat.