An assessment by the Breadalbane Development Association

The period for neighbourhood and community consultation for the latest set of proposals is now over. The coming weeks are for formal consultees to submit their opinions and P&K council to decide whether the revised masterplan for Taymouth Castle estate should go ahead as documented or in a modified form. 
For many years a local burden, the estate nevertheless has a fond anchorage in the heart of many people, and the castle is a national treasure.
Martin Mortimer, on behalf of the Meteor Property Fund, described the ambitious plan for the estate in the press statement in the April edition of Comment. 
Briefly, this includes:alt
•  renovation of the castle to develop a boutique hotel;
•  an additional 71 houses to the 89 already approved;
•  three spas, an equestrian centre, a golf clubhouse and restaurant.

Public Reaction
The pre-consultation display of the masterplan in Kenmore in February was well attended (with over 300 people listed), but only 19 people chose to return comments after visiting.  Of these it seems that, whilst nearly all are overall in favour of development of the castle and grounds, 50% felt that the development would benefit the local community and 50% were concerned about the financial viability of the project, and the effect of increased tourism on the area. 
The main areas of support were in seeing the castle restored to become a hotel and the development of local jobs - both for construction work and servicing the final complex.  There was a lot of enthusiasm for improving the golf course, with concern for access to it for local people being identified, as well as the advantages of providing a course with an international reputation.
The Breadalbane Development Association (BDA), a community organisation set up ‘to pursue measures to maintain the heritage, and promote community development within the historically established area of Breadalbane’  has been watching the development closely, and working in conjunction with Kenmore and District Community Council. 
One of its aims is to ensure the conservation of the Taymouth Castle estate and to promote its development for the benefit of the community.  Initially it had started to pursue the possibility of community transfer under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, in order that the castle was saved for the nation, and its estate developed in consultation with the local community.
The BDA welcomes proposals to renovate the castle and the designed landscape, and to develop the castle grounds.  It has views, however, on how this is being proposed in the two volumes of documentation and 461 plans (or 20CDs of information) that accompany the 11/00533/FLL planning application, and the further information for Planning Applications 11/00531/FBC and 11/00530/FLL.  It has submitted its comments on these to P&K Planning.alt

Project Support
BDA Secretary Dr Cindy Brooke, said: “As with most people in the community we would like to see a successful project, which rejuvenates the castle and turns it into a productive entity again.  The master plan proposed for the estate is certainly impressive  But how is this to be achieved?
“If houses are required to support this, then that is acceptable. But the association questions whether all the proposed houses are needed.
“The redesignation of the hotel lodges already increases the number of available estate properties even before the extra 71 are included. With this increased density of housing, surely the developers are at risk of spoiling the estate and thereby alienating the people for whom the properties are intended.”
In common with many other local organisations and with those involved in the hospitality industry in Highland Perthshire, the BDA is convinced that the principle attractions of the Loch Tay area lie in its beautiful scenery and peaceful countryside.
This might not continue to be the case, the association fears, and could become be too much if these castle estate proposals go ahead, along with the other nearby developments already approved.
“It seems vital that there is a bond between the developers and P&K council,” continued Cindy Brooke, “which ensures that work on the castle is completed and that the houses cannot all be built without the castle being finished. 
“A recent letter to the planners showed that Historic Scotland does not consider that Sections 4 and 5 of the conditions attached to the original planning consent have yet been completed. It maintains that ‘a suitable tie up to secure the careful restoration of the castle and its interiors, its designed landscape and the repair and re-use of the estate buildings is essential’”.
It is also the BDA’s position that, if P&K changed sections 4 and 5 of the present conditions, the community would be failed as the conservation of the castle would not be fully ensured.

Scale of Redevelopment
The re-development of the estate is an enormous logistical exercise, not only to put in utilities and services, to build the houses and new communication routes, but also to service the boutique hotel and houses over the long term. 
Cindy Brooke continued: “Building warrants are not yet in place for all the proposed house types, and important consultees, such as SEPA and Scottish Natural Heritage, have still to comment on the planned proposals.  Will the estate benefit from modern style wood and steel houses or should there be traditional architectural style?  How will the proposed houses perform in a bad Scottish winter and why have opportunities to incorporate alternative energy use not been exploited?
“For a development as large and complex as this, in an area of historic importance and natural beauty, it is even more important to get the project right.
“Three weeks to view the information and develop an informed postion is not enough. There is much to be protected whilst taking the development forward.Taymouth estate hosts many significant species including fresh water mussels and world famous salmon.”alt 
The BDA secretary went on: “From the work that the association has done it is clear that the priorities for the local community are conservation of the castle, access to the grounds and golf course, increased availability of affordable housing, improvements in the golf course, and to be listened to - as this has not been apparent in the past.”
“The Kenmore community is already experiencing the results of approval of successive planning applications, with developments at Kenmore Hotel, Mains of Taymouth and Croft na Caber, let alone the increased tourism traffic and greatly multiplied heavy vehicle movements associated with timber extraction, wind farms’ construction and the Beauly to Denny power line.”

Environmental Impact Study
For a small, picturesque village in a conservation area surely an environmental assessment of the impact of yet another large scale development such as is proposed is now a requirement. To depend upon one carried out eight years ago is not acceptable. 
In this context, the removal by Meteor of staff accommodation on or near to the site and its proposals to bus staff in from afar (even if they are available), seems very questionable as it is likely to increase the carbon footprint and will be difficult to sustain in bad weather.
Apart from the dangers of increasing traffic movements on already inadequate local roads in bad weather, the local community needs residents and investment in affordable housing, jobs and the continued operation of the primary school. 
Addressing the longer term outlook, Cindy Brooke said: “The developers have agreed that access to the estate will be allowed for local people and visitors but Martin Mortimer stated ‘It is expected that responsible access to the estate will be allowed - beyond the statutory requirements - and Meteor is working with the local community to decide the best ways of policing this to ensure that everyone’s enjoyment of the estate is unspoilt’. What exactly does he mean by this?”

Weaknesses in The Consultation
This consultation has been an enormous undertaking for Kenmore & District Community Council and, as Rosie Hooper of Fortingall  said: ‘You get the same consultation response time for an  A listed building of national importance, as you get for a garden shed!’. 
The BDA secretary remarked: “The fact that the applications have been lodged with P&K at a time of additional public holidays makes the process even more difficult to undertake within the statutory time limit. 
“Added to this the inadequacy of the local broadband service means that those who wished to access the information via the internet were unable to do so, because the broadband couldn’t support it.
“Just how are local communities supposed to respond responsibly when so many factors are against them?  Does P&K Council not have powers to be more flexible on such occasions, and make the task more reasonable?
“The experience of involving local communities in decision making with this project has exposed numerous issues that make a mockery of the procedures currently in place.”alt

Concerns & Compromises
Summarising the Kenmore and District Community Council’s consultation report, its chairman James Duncan Millar, stated: “I think that the work done so far on the restoration of the Castle under the 2005 Planning Approval is excellent and the ground and first floor work will be finished shortly, together with the securing from the elements of the main and north wings of the castle. 
“There are concerns regarding the timescale for the development of the hotel sections and east wing.  The work on the grounds, both on the golf course and the wider estate, to put right so many years of neglect, is much needed but is undoubtedly an enormous undertaking.”
Expanding this, he said: “My biggest concern is whether so many more holiday houses are required and to see how these can be tied in with local community, as there are no plans at present to provide staff housing. 
“Servicing the original 89 approved houses would have been quite a challenge not only to water and sewage facilities but in the provision of ongoing staffing needs, so I am concerned that a further 71 - plus spas, shops and restaurants - could be too much for even the recently upgraded facilities, and swamp this small but beautiful part of Highland Perthshire. 
“That said,” he concluded, “I am sure that, if compromises can be reached, there will be many and exciting opportunities for the community as a whole.  I am determined to maintain a good dialogue with the developers to ensure that the jewel that is the castle and its grounds will be an asset, not only to our community but also to the nation, in the years ahead.”  

 

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