ABERDEENSHIRE councillors are being urged to back controversial plans for almost 50 additional homes to be built to finally kick start the long-awaited redevelopment of the estate of the historic Roman Catholic Blairs Seminary on greenbelt land in the Dee valley.
Developers were granted the go-ahead three years ago to transform the 1000 acre estate into a major housing and leisure development on the outskirts of Aberdeen. The master plan includes proposals for a luxury hotel, golf course, equestrian centre and residential development of 280 homes.
The development was hailed as securing the future of the threatened college, once Scotland’s only junior seminary for training Catholic priests. But, three years on, the development has stalled.
Aberdeenshire councillors are now being asked to approve proposals, submitted by Hermiston Securities, for an “enabling” development of a further 44 homes to be built at the estate to finance the construction of a new bridge crossing over the River Dee.
The construction of a new bridge across the Dee to provide access to the North Deeside Road was one of the conditions set when the development was approved in 2010.
Stephen Archer, the council’s Director of Infrastructure Services states in a report to next week’s meeting of the Kincardine and Mearns area committee, “It was recognised as part of the consented development, that in order to meet sustainable transport objectives, a new bridge crossing would be required across the River Dee for pedestrian and cycle use which would provide access to the North Deeside Road and nearby settlements and amenities.
“This service is satisfied that the proposed number of dwellings is considered to be the minimum required to fund the required works. The financial cost appraisal is deemed to be commercially-sensitive and hence of a confidential nature.”
The 44 house development would be built on the site of a former quarry in the immediate vicinity of the river crossing and take the form of a detached hamlet.
Mr Archer continues: “The primary concern raised in relation to the proposed siting of development in this location is the visual impact upon this sensitive site which is emphasised by the Greenbelt designation which washes over the entire Blairs College Estate.
“It is considered unfortunate that the original permission did not include the development required to fund a footbridge, and given the scale of development this would ideally have been part of the initial application, or come through the local development plan.”
But Mr Archer states: “The proposal is, however, seen to potentially bolster the wider public benefits associated with the Blairs redevelopment by directly funding the required infrastructure to provide a safe crossing over the River Dee. This is seen to benefit not only future residents and users of the Blairs estate, but also by virtue of its location, serve to provide a vital pedestrian access for foot and cycle traffic for all network users, including users of the nearby National Cycling Route.”
He adds: “It is apparent that the proposed regeneration of the Blairs College Estate has been an ongoing process in excess of 20 years. The site has a planning history that dates back to the late 1980s following the end of the previous use on site.
“Although several of the proposed buildings have been utilised in some form in the intervening period, it is clear that the buildings and wider estate operates far below capacity and is failing. The primary concern in this respect is the ever deteriorating condition of the important historic buildings on site. It is clear that the scale of development required to enable the works required to save the historic buildings are not insignificant.
“The current proposal is seen to be the final piece in the puzzle that will allow tangible works to be implemented on site in order to rescue the buildings on site and hopefully secure a long term use. “
Mr Archer concludes: “The proposal, while raising a number of complex issues, is now considered to be acceptable in terms of all aspects of planning policy. In this case, the land is not allocated but the longer this process takes, the more deterioration of the Listed Buildings at Blairs, is likely.”