A Perthshire village has been left stunned by a council U-turn regarding a plan to build 12 flats on a hotel site, with incensed residents claiming it goes against local authority policy.
The decision by Perth and Kinross Council’s local review body earlier this week to uphold an appeal by the owners of the Glenfarg Hotel — against the decision of the council’s planning department to refuse the flats — has been slammed by scores of villagers.
It is the latest in a lengthy saga that has seen the hotel close its doors. Director John Hewitt, of Arngask Hotels Ltd, previously claimed he and his family were subjected to a social media-related “hate campaign”.
Mr Hewitt said continuing as a hotel was not “economically viable” and claimed he lost around £100,000 last year.
A plan was then lodged to convert the hotel into 12 flats by Jim Watters, of Arngask Hotels Ltd, but this was knocked back by the council on the basis it was contrary to both the local development plan and also the Scottish Government’s planning policy.
However, the matter has again been turned on its head with the council’s local review body voting 2-1 in favour of upholding the appeal by Mr Watters, and thus paving the way for the possible conversion to flats.
Kate Armstrong, secretary of the working group set up following the closure of the Glenfarg Hotel, claimed residents who attended the meeting were “amazed” by the ruling and the apparent “lack of full understanding” by the review body.
“We’re all completely stunned by this decision – it’s such a strange outcome,” she said. “Those present were given only details from the applicant’s statement, many aspects of which have been disproved, whilst the 164 objections were glossed over.”
She continued: “It would appear that Perth and Kinross Council no longer operate its own local development plan nor the Scottish Government’s planning policy.”
Mrs Armstrong claims the issue is “about truth and responsibility,” but states that “all is not lost,” with counter proposals for a community buy-out of the hotel still on the cards.
“The support from the villagers for this has been overwhelming and a company has now been registered with Companies House,” she added.
“An application to register interest has also been lodged with the Scottish Government.
“The wonderful aspect also of community ownership is that all the profits will be ploughed back into the community.”
And another local resident, Christine Fotheringham, accused the local review body of neglecting their role to be “investigative, robust and impartial.”
“There was overwhelming evidence from experts and planning legislation to refuse the appeal but the committee felt no need to respect these and most importantly, the views of the Glenfarg community,” she commented.
Meanwhile, Bill Macpherson, a neighbour of the hotel, added: “Expert opinion seems to count for nothing.”
Councillor Joe Giacopazzi, who voted for the appeal to be upheld along with Councillor Murray Lyle, claimed the controversial decision was taken as the matter was a “question of viability.”
“I understand people will be upset by this but there is a code of conduct I have to abide with and this body is quasi-judicial,” he said. “The decision was based on planning law.”
He continued: “If we didn’t do this the Glenfarg Hotel would deteriorate – similar to what happened with the Lomond Hotel.
“However, I feel this isn’t the end of the matter, as a bid to buy the Glenfarg Hotel from the community could secure an offer.”
Neither Mr Hewitt nor Mr Watters was available for comment on the decision.