Taymouth 'Passed With Conditions'

The decision reached by the P&K Development Control Committee on 22 June over the future of the Taymouth Castle estate set so many conditions on the development that it prompts the question: can it possibly be achieved this time in such a difficult financial climate?
Over 60 conditions are now attached to the progress of the project. Besides the hurdles that these present to the developers it must be questioned also whether P&K has the resources and the administrative energy to cope with such a number. Why would the bulk of these not have achieved approval before the granting of permission?
The three associated applications in question formed only a part of a large agenda for the committee on the day, although it was by far the biggest and most complicated development to be dealt with.
The case for the development was presented by Neil Martin of Turley Associates, and Eric Strickland of MacKenzie Strickland Associates on behalf of the estate owners Meteor Asset Management.
They made the case for the local authority to support the transformation of Taymouth Castle Estate into an exclusive, world class hotel and golf resort, aimed at bringing it back into use, creating new jobs, delivering significant benefits for the local community and placing Perthshire ‘at the heart of international tourism for years to come’.

Robust Conditions
The statutory consultee, Kenmore & District Community Council, supported the principal of the development and welcomed the work already done to the castle.  Its Chairman James Duncan Millar, however, challenged the removal of the previously imposed Clauses 4 and 5 without these being replaced by robust alternatives. These clauses related to the completion of the castle restoration. 
This stance echoed the local community’s longstanding concern that the castle be preserved for the future as a priority in the development. The building of houses was accepted as a source of finance as long as it was geared into the stages of development of the castle, to ensure that this would not once more be left unfinished. 
This position was reinforced by a presentation by David Maclehose of Heritage Solutions, who has experience and expertise in preserving the built heritage of Scotland.
James Duncan Millar also identified the need for staff accommodation, which had been removed from the extant permission. To support the application, he maintained, increased jobs for people living in the community were essential, along with affordable housing for their families. 
He welcomed the work on the estate, particularly the commitment to continued access by the community to the grounds and golf course. He thought there were already a lot of houses in the area available for letting and expressed a fear that Kenmore could become a tourist ghetto which could ruin the natural beauty that people travelled to experience.

Numerous Planning Conditions
The Breadalbane Development Association (BDA) considered the castle and its surroundings to be a priceless asset, which had the potential to be a major tourist attraction.  In its presentation to the committee it urged that the asset should be cherished and that planning decisions should not be rushed.
Emphasising that there were over 60 planning conditions that still needed to be agreed, the BDA maintained that many of these were material and that it was only possible to raise a few of them with the Development Control Committee.
According to the BDA, Meteor was seeking a major concession from P&K Council in insisting that the project was not viable without the large increase in housing (71 extra units). The association said that a business plan should be in place before P&K granted any permission, and it noted that much was made of ‘new financial modelling’ by the developer without evidence of how this would work.
The previous consortium, claimed the BDA, had failed to pay for some of the work carried out and there was concern that this should not be repeated, nor the estate be abandoned again in a partly developed condition.

Serious Unresolved Questions
For such a large development there was no evidence of planning gain for the local community. There had been clear local suggestions in this respect made in the responses to the planning applications. Investment in broadband service was one benefit that the BDA instanced to the committee.
The Taymouth project is classed as a ‘holiday development’ and, as such, yields no schooling or affordable housing contribution to the locality. Meteor’s spokesmen protest that, if the houses are  identified for holiday use only, this would impose restrictions upon prospective purchasers raising a mortgage.
Despite efforts to clarify this point no definitive answer has been given about the status of the new housing. Passed by the committee as ‘holiday accommodation’, the developers’ press statement released on the afternoon of the meeting nevertheless referred to the proposed houses as ‘luxury private residences’.
So it is that the developers get the best both worlds, the local authority levies no gainful contribution for public utility contribution/benefit from the landuse and once more the local community gets neglected.

No Operators Identified
Crucial to the issue of the project’s overall viability is the question of resort operators. Meteor talks of having two, one for the hotel and one for the residences. None has been identified to date. The lack of an operator was a major reason given for the last consortium failing at Taymouth.
These operators are supposed to determine the final arrangements, but the future development is already advertised on the internet with ‘a full home concierge and butler service, and a helipad’ - for which there is no planning application.

Environmental Questions
Plans for the management of the natural heritage and environment have yet to be agreed. For instance, the current plans state that waste from the estate will go into the village system.  The extant 2005 development permission for the estate approved a private waste system until such time that alternative capacity could be developed. This provision did not appear in the current application.
The weeds have scarcely grown on a new system in Kenmore which does not have sufficient capacity for 160 houses and a 81 key hotel. Yet a recent ‘Courier’ article stated that ‘a significant  environmental project is being developed in Kenmore, led by Scottish Water, which will create an entirely new waste water solution for Kenmore.’ There is no indication of how such a project is to be funded.
The Environmental Impact Statement was carried out in 2003. The BDA argued that this was too long ago to be accurate in the current situation.  Updates are planned for some species, but not for others, such as freshwater mussels. 
Due to the extent of the development there will be widespread loss of woodland, including established trees. Felling and tree damage had already taken place and been identified. For the future there is to be a zone-by-zone tree plan, but anxieties exist about how that would be enforced.
The new houses planned for the estate are ‘of contemporary design’ and claimed to be made of local materials. Reservations were made that roofs of aluminium construction seemed scarcely compatible with the designed landscape and with the expectations for high market value structures, understood to be priced in the £600,000 - £1million+ bracket.

Split Vote
The views of councillors on the Development Control Committee were split. It was noteworthy that the Perth councillors voted to approve and the non Perth ones were against. The  casting vote was given by the Chairman, and the applications subsequently went through subject to the 60 planning conditions.  That outcome will go before a full council meeting in Septemeber for rubber stamping.
Upon going to press the minutes of the DCC meeting were not available for public viewing, but the developers are well advanced with the building of the first show house.
In September of 2010 the Glasgow Herald featured an article entitled ‘The fairytale castle in search of a happy ending’. It detailed the history of the castle and the various ventures that had failed to revive it. 
We wait to see whether the apparently untimely haste to approve these latest plans will achieve a happy ending this time.

Cindy Brook, Secretary of the Breadalbane Develoment Association

 

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