Credit: Daily Record

Park of Keir deadline extended again

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Local representatives for Stirling, Dunblane and Bridge of Allan have signed a letter to Kevin Stewart, the Scottish Government’s Planning Minister, demanding that the controversial Park of Keir Development between Dunblane and Bridge of Allan be scrapped.

Stirling MP Steven Kerr, Alexander Stewart MSP and Alistair Majury, a councillor for Bridge of Allan and Dunblane, have all written to the Planning Minister after the deadline for developers to reach an agreement with Stirling Council was extended yet again.

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The letter, sent on October 28, admonishes the minister for treating constituents with ‘utter contempt’ after yet another extension was agreed despite local opposition. It calls for the planning application for the Park of Keir site to be rejected after two years of negotiations have failed to reach an agreement.

Speaking to Brig about the extension, MSP Alexander Stewart said it was “if not the longest, then one of the longest [in Scotland]. I was a councillor for 18 years before becoming an MSP and I’ve never known it to go on as long as this”.

The development, which aims to build luxury houses and tennis courts on greenbelt land between Bridge of Allan and Dunblane, is a proposal by Judy Murray, mother of tennis stars Andy and Jamie, and the King Group.

The Planning Application was rejected by Stirling Council in 2015. However, in an unusual move, the Scottish Government then called in the application citing national importance.

Residents and local politicians have been left in the dark over the discussions, leading to concerns about transparency and local democracy. Asked whether Planning Minister Kevin Stewart had too much influence over the decision, Councillor Stewart said, “I think when you have a community that is not in favour, when we have had such a large turnout when there have been meetings, when we’ve even had demonstrations… it shows the depth of feeling that there is in the community.”

The original planning application received 1,019 letters of objection and just 45 in favour, alongside a letter of support from the Lawn Tennis Association.

Campaign group RAGE (Residents Against Greenbelt Erosion) have formed an opposition to the development, citing the destruction of the greenbelt and a potential funding gap of £8.5 million.

The group’s head, Inga Bullen, told Brig, “The figures in their business plan did not add up. The houses are only providing 10-20% of the cost of the sports facilities. They have not given us any figures that would show how the initial building will be funded or how the ongoing costs of running a large indoor sports facility will be covered.”

This was also a finding of the Government Reporter, Timothy Brian, who rejected the application in September 2016. The Scottish Government then made the rare decision to ignore their own reporter’s findings.

In 2016 Ministers decided they were ‘minded to approve’ the application. Stirling Council has since been forced into a Section 75 Agreement (sometimes called a planning obligation) with the developers, who were initially given three months to address the concerns in Brian’s report. Yet more than two years later, the developers have still not arrived at an agreement with Stirling Council, and are refusing to comment whilst negotiations are ongoing.

Much of the controversy has arisen over plans to fund the development with luxury homes and a hotel. The original planning application called for 100 homes to finance the tennis courts and golf facilities.

This was downgraded to just 19 houses after the initial target was rejected. Judy Murray has lobbied tennis organisations for further funding; however Brig Newspaper understands these attempts have been unsuccessful, and that further money has still to be found to make the project viable.

RAGE have accused the King Group of building a ‘Trojan horse’. The land, owned by Duncan King, is set to increase sharply in value if house building is allowed.

Community fears that the tennis academy funding will collapse after house building has begun have not been properly addressed. Speaking about the prospect of homes being built without sports facilities, Ms. Bullen said, “Basically they are playing a long game to get consent for a few houses (supposedly subsidising a sports facility) and then in future [they will] apply for more houses with the excuse that the site is no longer countryside. Or just build the houses, let the sports fail and have a brownfield site ripe to redevelop”.

The financial viability of an indoor tennis centre was called into question during the 2016 enquiry, when Dr Ian Thomson, former Sports Director at Stirling University, gave evidence about the difficulty of funding indoor tennis.

Dr Thomson also highlighted that the National Tennis Centre, located at Stirling University, could pose a competitive risk for Ms. Murray’s tennis centre. However, the developers have emphasised that the tennis facilities would be for grassroots tennis, rather than professional players.

Another concern raised by MSP Alexander Stewart is that funding may fall apart after the initial development of houses, leading to an erosion of the greenbelt, but with not enough houses to form a community.

“I know of some planning applications in other locations across Scotland, in Perth and Kinross when I was a councillor, where there was something similar… [the development] still hasn’t materialised into what it should be. But it has created some sort of buildings, and that hasn’t helped anybody because it’s no longer just grass and greenfield, it’s got houses on it.”

The deadline to reach an agreement has now been extended to January 31. Neither the Planning Minister nor the developers responded to a request for comment.

Photo credit: Daily Record

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