Original Backers Reappear as ‘Developers’

The key figures responsible for the previous development of Taymouth Castle when it went into administration two years ago have reappeared as ‘developers’ and ‘development consultants’ for the newly rejuvenated scheme being promoted by Meteor Asset Management, a wealthy, London-administered investment company.

altClynt Wellington and John French, who conceived the original 2005 scheme and had a stake in it, are actively involved with Meteor in getting the new project off the ground. They are expected to become even more hands-on in the next few months if Perth and Kinross Council (P&K) agree a massive expansion in building in different spots all over the 400-acre estate.

According to Neil Martin, appointed by Meteor as its planning consultant, the go-ahead for huge changes to the original scheme could be agreed by P&K later in June or during July. He says discussions with the local authority have been very ‘constructive’.

He is in an ideal position to know as he was involved directly in the original scheme, was a P&K planning officer many years ago, and is now on first name terms with the key P&K officials who are vetting the details.

Meteor has made it clear that it is likely to mothball the project if P&K refuses to agree the changes which the company says are economically essential. As a carrot Metoer has published a report from tourism expert Professor John Lennon who reckons it will have an annual direct economic impact of £13.1m on the local and regional economy when complete, and a further indirect impact of 18.4m.

Neil Martin said that Clynt Wellington and John French had a wealth of knowledge about the estate and the original plans, and would be acting as ‘developers’ through their company Farnham Developments. On Meteor’s website they are described as ‘development consultants’.

Neil Martin would not say what being ‘developer’ meant in this context but he was adamant that the estate was now owned by Meteor. On the planning documentation the ‘applicants’ are given as Taymouth Castle Estate Ltd and Taymouth Estate Ltd and the address field is blank except ‘c/o Agent’ - which is Neil Martin.

Some local people blame Clynt Wellington and John French for the highly unsatisfactory way the previous project ground to a halt and their silence about what was going on. Others recognise that they at least made sure the castle was wind and watertight, spending many millions in the process.

The Earlier Picture

Under their previous tutelage P&K agreed plans in 2005 for an ambitious, super-luxury development that was supposedly going to be operated by a major leisure industry operator. The mammoth Four Seasons Group was said to be involved.

The scheme then comprised:

• Converting Taymouth Castle and building a new north wing to form a 5 star hotel with 81 rooms and suites;

• Converting and extending the derelict Newhall kennels in the east end of the estate to form a 5 star spa and health club;

• Constructing 26 new estate luxury houses and converting into luxury houses the sawmill, two sawmill cottages, two Newhall cottages, the nearby dairy and the dairy byre.

• Constructing east of the castle and at Newhall kennels 63 more luxury properties adjacent to the River Tay;

• Constructing three properties adjacent to Kenmore village; and

• Constructing a new golf clubhouse and maintenance facility, equestrian centre and private wastewater treatment facility.

By 2008 much remedial work had been carried out on the castle to make it sound ,and the project was due to complete by 2010. However, problems had begun to arise. Without explanation Michael Hall, one of the key backers of the project, pulled out. Then it appeared that Four Seasons had pulled out – perhaps because of a downturn in tourism to the UK following the July bombings in London in 2005.

With a marked lack of information coming from the remaining principals – Clynt Wellington and John French – Taymouth became a half-completed eyesore. There was no surprise when the bank put the companies owning the estate into administration.

The Latest Scheme

Late last year – with the economic crisis at its peak – there was surprise at news that the project was starting again. Comment broke the story that Meteor Asset Management in London was buying the estate with plans to spend even more money on developing it. The figure of £200 million was being suggested.

When more details of Meteor’s plans emerged it became clear that completing the original scheme was no longer considered viable. The Asset Management company is now deep in talks with P&K to add the following elements:

• A further 71 high quality estate properties;

• A new access arrangement into the Castle’s west wing;

• A Scandinavian spa, a family spa, and a health and beauty spa;

• A new Smokehouse Restaurant;

• Re-ordering and restoration of the James Braid Golf Course to make it of championship standard;

• Reconstruction of a vehicular bridge across the Taymouth Burn to the west of the east drive.

In addition Meteor wishes to relocate the equestrian centre, the golf clubhouse and some of estate properties.

Unresolved Issues

Apart from P&K’s crucial role in approving the new plans there are other significant matters still unresolved or at least unannounced. The issue of who will be operating the estate as one of Scotland’s major tourist attractions is unknown.

Documentation suggests two operators are likely to be sought, one for the hotel side and the other for the holiday property element.

It is also not easy to fathom Meteor’s labyrinthine business structure. Meteor Asset Management is the main front company, but it appears Meteor Property Fund will possess Taymouth Estate and seek investors through which the project will, with hope, make a substantial capital gain.

This Fund probably owns Taymouth Castle Estate Ltd and Taymouth Estate Ltd – the applicants for planning permission. These are Guernsey registered companies on which almost no useful information is publicly registered.

Another puzzle is that Meteor Property Fund is listed on the Mauritius stock exchange.

While P&K deliberates, work is going on apace at Taymouth with scaffolding erected on sections of the castle and new hard-core roads running all through the grounds.

Despite puzzles about the people and entities behind it, the project appears to have an impetus suggesting Meteor, Clynt Wellington and John French are determined to see their dreams happen this time.


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