Dunblane’s wildlife is at risk. The controversial plans to build an Andy Murray museum among with 12 tennis courts, a golf course, a hotel and 19 luxury homes on Park of Keir between Dunblane and Bridge of Allan was approved on 21 December by Scottish Ministers.
The Park of Keir Development, led by Judy Murray, was rejected by Stirling Council in 2015 after the blueprint attracted more than 1000 objections. However, in 2017, following an appeal, a Notice of Intention for its approval was issued by Scottish Ministers.
Over four years later, planning permission has been granted by Scottish Ministers, arguing that the benefits of the development are “sufficient to outweigh the loss of green belt at this location”.
An statement that has caused debate in Dunblane and Bridge of Allan, where several residents cannot see those benefits. Their Community Councils have been against the development since its announcement and the campaign group RAGE (Residents Against Greenbelt Erosion) has actively opposed.
The final submissions to the Park of Keir appeal have now been made, including from Dunblane Community Council (extract below). You can read all the documents here: https://t.co/eQ4eJ84RuH The decision now rests with Scottish Government Ministers. #SaveParkofKeir pic.twitter.com/FawtN7Ty26
— Dunblane Community Council (@DunblaneCC) November 8, 2021
Dunblane Community Council is very disappointed to learn today that Scottish Ministers have granted planning permission to the Park of Keir development. It is a decision which ignores widespread local concerns and makes a mockery of the planning process.
— Dunblane Community Council (@DunblaneCC) December 20, 2021
However, not every resident in Dunblane and Bridge of Allan is against the idea. Scottish Ministers decision letter states “there will also be economic benefits to the local area,” something a number of neighbours agree with.
So, what does the population actually want as a whole? Are more people for or against the development in their green belt land? The Insider has asked dozens of residents and local business owners and workers in both towns to find out what they really think, including an exclusive interview with Bridge of Allan resident and MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife Alexander Stewart.
What people say in Dunblane:
Weigh Ahead shop owner Rosemary Hunter is a member of Dunblane’s Community council who took part in the hearing as part of the development’s opposition side when the project was rejected by Stirling councillors in 2015.
“I am a very sporty person myself, so I went there with a very open mind, however, the business plan was not realistic in any way. They are talking about 12 tennis courts, six indoors and six outdoors which would need to be used at 65 per cent capacity to be profitable. There are typically 154 days of rain in Dunblane per year, so no one is going to play outdoor tennis in those days,” she says.
However, Hunter’s biggest concern is the destruction of the green belt. “They want to build 19 rich-exclusive huge houses on the land. The location is not the right place, it is a piece of green belt that you can never get back once you have taken it away.”
Finally, she does not think local businesses will benefit from the development either. “Having Murray’s museum in the town would have made sense because people could park here, but what you are doing is taking it to the motorway junction, so people won’t be coming to the town centre,” she concludes.
Rosemary Hunter inside her shop Weigh Ahead in Dunblane. She attended the 19 days of the hearing in 2015. Photo by Alberto Lejarraga Molina
Fellow member of the Community Council and retired journalist Andy Mitchell is also “very much against the idea”. “It is a totally inappropriate use of the greenbelt around Dunblane. This is an area that separates Dunblane from Bridge of Allan, which are two very distinct communities,” he explains.
Andy Mitchel, retired journalist and member of Dunblane Community Council inside his house. Photo by Alberto Lejarraga Molina.
David, who is having a pint at the Tappit Hen pub, is also very much against the development: “It will blur the boundary between Dunblane and Bridge of Allan. I think a tennis complex is completely unnecessary and I think the developer just wants to build very expensive houses. From an environmental and a business point of view it makes no sense,” he says with a smile.
Although he was born in Sheffield, David is lives now in Dunblane and he is against the development. Photo by Alberto Lejarraga Molina
The owner of a local shop in the High Street thinks “it is not necessary”, while Mike, who is in charge of another establishment nearby, goes further. “We already have golf courses and tennis courts in Dunblane and Bridge of Allan and they are slightly underused, so another set of facilities like that, I am not sure who is going to use them to be quite honest. The council said no but Nicola Sturgeon has overruled it. Go ahead Sir Andy Murray! Do you want to know the bottom line? I think this is an ego trip for his mother,” he says.
Inside Dunblane’s Old Curiosity Shop, a customer complains that “in around ten years, Dunblane will almost be joining with Bridge of Allan.” However, David, the shop owner, disagrees with him: “It will bring more people to Dunblane. Personally I think it is a good idea,” he explains.
The Old Curiosity Shop owner David believes Murray’s project is a good idea for Dunblane. Photo by Alberto Lejarraga Molina
Walking north Ramoyle’s area, Lara and Bernadette also have different views on the matter. While Lara thinks it is a “terrible idea,” as “it is a beautiful greenbelt that is going to be ruined and it is not going to benefit Dunblane at all,” her friend disagrees with her. “It is a great opportunity for work, it could create new jobs in the area,” Bernadette says.
Lara and Bernadette prove that friends do not need to agree on everything. Photo by Alberto Lejarraga Molina
In Ramoyle, Veronica, who has lived in the area for 12 years, also takes Murray’s side: “I don’t think is going to damage a lot of green land. I think it is worthwhile. It is going to create housing and walkway to Bridge of Allan, there are a lot of pluses about it.”
Veronica and a friend of hers. She is very much for the development plans to go ahead. Photo by Alberto Lejarraga Molina
Veronica’s opinion is backed by Matt, the son of the owner of Steven Croal Hairdressing. “I feel Dunblane needs to have a wee bit more of restaurants, cafes and bars. It will bring more people here so it is good for businesses,” he says.
Co-worker Lisa and Matt inside his father’s hairdressing. He believes the development would be good for businesses. Photo by Alberto Lejarraga Molina.
Check the video to learn about the beauty of Park of Keir and the nearby Darn Walk:
What people say in Bridge of Allan:
Gregory, the owner of La French Epicerie likes the idea of the development. “It could be a good addition to the village because there is not a hotel anymore in Bridge of Allan, so if they build new accommodation, it could be good for businesses,” he says.
Gregory brings the French taste to Scotland. He believes the development could be good for businesses. Photo by Alberto Lejarraga Molina
He is the only person found by this reporter in Bridge of Allan with a favourable opinion towards the development. Eric, the owner of the interior decoration shop ‘Nutshell’ says he has always been against it. “Where I live overlooks the area and it not a great thing it will become a golf course and houses,” he complains.
Eric lives overseeing the greenbelt and he is very much against the idea of Murray’s project, yet he thinks is now too late to stop it. Photo by Alberto Lejarraga Molina
Outside the shop, a man called Dugi is concerned about the nearby Darn Walk, the rural path that links both towns from where Park of Keir is seen. I think it is a shame because the Darn Walk is a fantastic thing the community enjoys and there is also a lot of wildlife that will be affected,” he argues.
Tom, another pedestrian, finds the news “disappointing”. “I like the idea but is not the right location. They also want a golf course, and there are already a lot of them in this area that are struggling financially. It could have been a good idea somewhere else,” he explains.
Tom believes the idea is not bad in itself, he thinks the problem is the location. Photo by Alberto Lejarraga Molina
Outside a small gallery, Craig explains his concern over “the right of access to the area and the impact it can have in Scotland’s right to roam.” The friend he is talking to explains that “it was rejected by the council but was taken to the Scottish Government that accepted it. If these planning developments had been proposed by any other person, they would have been rejected. It was only approved because of who they are; because they are the Murrays,” he says.
Craig biggest concern is the right of access to the area and the impact it can have in Scotland’s right to roam. Photo by Alberto Lejarraga Molina
A woman called Sandra agrees with this last statement and thinks the whole thing is “scandalous.” “Certain people get to put their things forward. It was rejected by the council and the Scottish Government has changed the rules. We don’t need more houses on the green belt, it is just going to make Dunblane and Bridge of Allan all one,” she says with anger.
Sandra believes there is a special treat for people with power and thinks Murray’s project is scandalous. Photo by Alberto Lejarraga Molina
Interview with Alexander Stewart MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife (Region) since 2016:
Stewart, Bridge of Allan resident who has actively opposed to Park of Keir Development, has agreed to be interviewed by the Insider. An exclusive 18-minute telephone conversation on what he believes is just “a vanity project for Judy Murray”.
How does the approval of the project make you feel?
We are very angry at this whole process and we are very let down by the Scottish Government. The Council, officials, the reporter, all were against it, but the Scottish Government has decided, in their wisdom, and I cannot think of any reasons why the would decide to rip out a green belt to build on it houses and tennis facilities when you have so many other facilities in the vicinity that are underused. It is not of national importance.
Was permission granted by the Ministers because of whom the developer is?
I cannot say why they made this decision. They say it is a matter of supporting national importance, but that doesn’t seem to be the case because there is not a necessity for it. So, they have made a choice, but a choice that is against what the local community wants.
Is there still a chance to stop it?
No, it has got the Ministerial and the Government support so it will now start to progress.
Do you think Scottish Ministers overruling the Council decision and ignoring the community sets a bad precedent for local democracy in Scotland?
Very much so. But this is not the first time that Scottish ministers have overruled a community. You just have to look at some of the wind farms applications that were put up in Perthshire, Stirling, Central and West Scotland and even the Highlands, where local communities said they did not want wind farms and the Government overturned the decision. The Scottish Government has a track record of overturning local democratic processes when it comes to planning applications.
Will the Darn Walk also be affected?
Yes, it is going to have an effect on all the surrounding area. This is nothing more than a vanity project, a vanity project for Judy Murray. They could have put it anywhere else. Why choosing this location? It destroys a woodland that has been used by many people to walk, hike and trail and that will be decimated for a vanity project of houses and a tennis court.
Will local businesses benefit from it?
No doubt it will bring employment and business, but at what cost? It is a massive cost to the community and a massive cost to the environment. When I talk to the people in Bridge of Allan and Dunblane, the majority of them feel that this is too big a price to pay.