A heritage group has demanded a new investigation into the site of one of Perthshire’s longest running planning sagas.
It is 20 years since Perth construction firm GS Brown first applied for planning permission for hundreds of homes, a primary school and shops at Oudenarde, Bridge of Earn.
The project, in partnership with Taylor Wimpey, has seen years of delays including the developers negotiating more favourable terms following the 2008 financial crash.
More recently the Scottish Government took two years to consider roads provision.
Transport Scotland said GS Brown had not shown how the development, at the site of the old Bridge of Earn hospital, would link safely to the M90.
But now the troubled development faces more delays after an intervention by Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust.
Responding to GS Brown’s latest planning application, for 67 homes on another part of the site, the group said no work should take place as it may be ground of archaeological significance.
Demand for archaeological investigation
Historic environment manager Sophie Nicol said it has “archaeological potential” given its location adjacent to the flood plain of the River Earn.
The charity – devoted to conserving, enhancing and promoting the rich historic environment of the area – is demanding no work takes place until after an investigation.
“Several archaeological sites including curvilinear and rectangular enclosures and linear features are located at similar locations in the vicinity of Bridge of Earn,” Ms Nicol states in a letter to planning officials.
“Whilst nothing remains above ground of these archaeological sites, their presence is attested by crop marks identified by aerial photographic survey.
“Recent archaeological research carried out by the Tay Landscape Partnership on a similar site to the west of Bridge of Earn has located a significant Mesolithic camp site, the first monument site of its type found in Perth and Kinross.”
Items almost 12,000 years old found near River Earn
More than 700 ancient items were found at Freeland Farm, by the River Earn, between 2014 and 2017.
The remarkable find, which included ancient hunting tools, shed new light on how some of Scotland’s earliest communities lived.
The pieces found on the farm were from between 9,800BC and 4,000BC, and made of local carnelian stone.
Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust sees similar potential at the Bridge of Earn site. It notes no archaeological investigation has ever taken place.
Therefore, it wants planning officials to inset a condition that the development doesn’t start until there is a full investigation.
It said the Heritage Trust and local authority should agree the scope of the study.
“Thereafter, the developer shall ensure that the programme of archaeological works is fully implemented,” it said.
This includes all “excavation, preservation, recording, recovery, analysis, publication and archiving of archaeological resources,” the letter adds.
It also asks for access to the site to observe work in progress.
GS Brown feels impact of project delays
GS Brown has been working on the Oudenarde project for more than two decades.
The initial proposal to Perth and Kinross Council was altered following the financial crash.
In the original heads of terms the developer was to provide up to £1.7 million for a new primary school.
In 2012, the school provision was changed to being a shared cost with the local authority. The council will recoup costs as houses are built or plots sold.
GS Brown previously said the Scottish Government investigation had a “knock on detrimental effect” on the company’s results.
From sales of more than £10.5m in 2018, revenue dropped to £4.4m in 2019 and £4.3m last year. Pre-tax profits were £1.5m in 2018. They fell to £576,000 in 2019 and £134,000 last year.
Planning bosses have earmarked the Bridge of Earn development site for up to 1,600 houses. It will also include shops, a primary school and park and ride facility.
GS Brown was asked to comment.