The firm behind the controversial Taymouth Castle redevelopment at Kenmore has bought the Moness Resort in Aberfeldy.
The acquisition of the popular holiday park by investors linked to Discovery Land Company raises the stakes in the row over its intentions in Perthshire.
The US real estate giant – run by entrepreneur Mike Meldman – has been embroiled in a public dispute over the multimillion-pound restoration of the 200-year-old Taymouth Castle.
Its plans have been the subject of intense scrutiny in recent months.
The Courier’s Perth area editor, Morag Lindsay, answers the key questions surrounding the firm’s latest purchase and an issue that has split the community.
1 – Why has DLC’s purchase of Moness Resort in Aberfeldy prompted such a strong reaction among locals?
It genuinely seems to have come out of the blue. I understand there had been rumours. But most people had put them down to idle speculation.
It’s a bold move. Moness is a well-known name. The purchase was obviously going to make headlines.
And clearly Discovery Land Company has not been cowed by the negative publicity surrounding its activities at Taymouth Castle.
Some people are now questioning how far the firm’s intentions might stretch.
In addition to the Taymouth Castle estate, it already owns the Kenmore Hotel, the village shop, a former cafe and a number of other properties in Kenmore.
That’s as well as a large chunk of land in Glen Lyon.
And that’s a lot of assets to fall into the hands of one landowner in a short space of time.
2 – What are the arguments from those against the firm’s business activities in Perthshire?
The Protect Loch Tay pressure group says locals and visitors stand to lose access to land around Kenmore and to have their peace and tranquility destroyed by Discovery Land Company’s “overdevelopment”.
Its online petition describes the developers as “a group of American billionaires who specialise in exclusive gated ‘worlds’ for the super rich”.
Objectors have criticised the absence of a masterplan, detailing the full extent of its ambitions.
Aberfeldy Development Trust has also raised the alarm about the likely impact on local housing shortages.
Aberfeldy is a tourist town. Local businesses still need visitors. If holiday cottages at the Moness Resort are turned into worker accommodation for Taymouth Castle, where will the visitors go?
And will it lead to more short-term lets, removing even more family homes from the market.
3 – What are the arguments from those for the new ownership?
Discovery Land Company has made a lot of friends along the road in Kenmore. Taymouth Castle is well on the way to being restored after a series of ill-fated attempts by other developers in recent decades.
And Discovery Land Company has pressed ahead with the restoration BEFORE building – never mind selling – a single property on the estate. That’s unusual.
Supporters say a prestige development like this will bring jobs (it’s created 200 already), along with more visitors and trade for other businesses in the area. And that includes Aberfeldy.
Some say the Moness Resort has been looking a little tired in recent years. Who would blame Aberfeldy for wanting a bit of that sparkle?
4 – Why have local politicians John Swinney and Pete Wishart got involved?
The veteran SNP politicians held a meeting in Aberfeldy as support for the Protect Loch Tay petition was gathering pace.
They said then that the Taymouth Castle development had generated an unprecedented volume of correspondence.
I think the hope was that the meeting – attended by more than 300 people – would take some of the heat out of the situation. That was at the end of July when the online petition had amassed 17,000 signatures. There are now more than 150,000.
Access came up a lot; interesting when you consider how totemic Scotland’s “right to roam” legislation is to the SNP.
The pair also heard concerns over issues such as the environment and the impact on rural housing, and communicated them to Discovery Land Company on behalf of locals.
They seemed as shocked as anyone when the Moness announcement was made on Friday. They released a joint press release 40 minutes later, saying: “The news that Discovery Land Company is acquiring Moness Resort is totally unexpected and will spark significant questions and undoubtedly concerns in the local community and beyond.”
5 – Has DLC communicated its intentions in Perthshire to the wider public?
Kind of. When the backlash against the Taymouth Castle redevelopment erupted Discovery Land Company said it accepted its communications with the public had fallen far short.
It was the first point its chief project officer Tom Collopy made when he spoke exclusively to The Courier in July. And the firm has pledged to be much more open in its dealings in future.
Critics will question whether a three-paragraph press release, confirming the Moness acquisition by “an investment group affiliated with Taymouth Estate” on Friday afternoon goes far enough.
Kenmore Community Council also shared a statement from the company on Facebook on Friday. It contained a little more detail than the one that went to the press.
This included the idea that spare cottages at Moness will be made available for people who work at the Taymouth Estate, as well as others in the community.
The statement, signed by Sarah Cairns on behalf of David O’Donoghue, General Manager of Taymouth Castle, does not rule out the possibility of purchasing other properties for workforce housing if the opportunity arises.
It concludes: “There will be other questions, as well, and we intend to address them as quickly and fully as possible through emails such as this, our recently updated welcometotaymouth.com website, and a newsletter which will launch later this month.”
6 – What happens next at Moness Resort in Aberfeldy?
Discovery Land Company says the Moness Resort will continue to be open to the public. It will continue to be operated by the current team and there are no plans for job cuts.
There are no plans to change how the hotel, restaurant, bar, or spa will be used.
However, the firm says it intends to work with Perth and Kinross Council regarding a change of use for the cottages.
John Swinney and Pete Wishart said last Friday they would be pressing for a public meeting with Taymouth Castle bosses.
So is the Aberfeldy Development Trust.
There has been no word on a date for either yet. But clearly this saga is far from over.