ONE of Scotland’s oldest hotels will today unveil a £100-million expansion plan to build a nursing home, 200 holiday lodges and a giant farm shop in the grounds of its Perthshire estate.
Crieff Hydro, which opened its doors in 1868, currently employs almost 600 staff and expects to take on a further 300 workers if the proposals are approved by Perth and Kinross Council.
The scheme – which includes a 100-bed care home, assisted-living accommodation for a further 100 people and a leisure facility with a gym and swimming pool – would have views of the Ochil Hills and the Strathearn valley.
Chief executive Stephen Leckie, 47, who is the fifth generation of his family to run the hotel, told The Scotsman that the plans could bring in £50m a year for the local economy, with hotel guests and staff spending money in Crieff’s shops.
“We looked at sites all over the UK when we were choosing where to expand but we decided that the best place was right on our doorstep,” said Mr Leckie.
“This project isn’t just about obtaining planning permission. It’s about ambition and creating something sustainable for the next generation and for the decades to come.”
Crieff Hydro already welcomes 1,000 guests a day to its facilities but wants to eventually attract one million visitors a year to the estate.
Construction work would be carried out over the next 20 years, with 125 building jobs supported during the early stages of development and then 65 posts during subsequent phases.
Mr Leckie, who is chairman of Crieff Community Council, one of the Deputy Lord Lieutenants for Perth and Kinross and chairman of the Scottish Tourism Alliance trade body, said he had already held talks with banks and potential private equity investors about funding the project.
He said a more-detailed business plan would be drawn up if planning permission is granted for the development, which has cost £100,000 in consultations and project fees so far.
“Feedback from the consultation process was extremely positive, with 62 per cent of respondents supporting the expansion of Crieff Hydro estate and 68 per cent supporting the long-term expansion of Crieff as a tourist destination,” said Mr Leckie.
Yesterday local organisations gave the development a cautious welcome.
Maureen Beaumont, chairwoman and secretary of East Strathearn Community Council, said: “Our first step will be to consult the community.
“However, as we said previously, while we welcome investment in the area and the possibility of jobs, we do have concerns about issues such as transport and access.”
Malcolm Roughhead, chief executive of VisitScotland, said: “We welcome news of the proposed investment at Crieff Hydro, not just in traditional visitor facilities but also moving towards meeting wider community requirements.
“Tourism is essential to the wider Perthshire and vital in helping to position the region as a ‘must visit’ destination.”
Health retreat dates back to Victorian times
Crieff Hydro was built as Scotland’s first hydropathic hotel by Thomas Meikle, a physician from Aberdeen, and opened its doors in 1868, under the rather grand title of “The Strathearn Hydropathic Establishment Company”.
Victorian doctors believed bathing in cold spring water could cure ailments and hydro hotels soon sprang up across Scotland, including at Dunblane, Peebles and Pitlochry.
Until 1994, the hotel was “dry”, with no alcohol served at its bar. Introducing alcoholic drinks was one of the first changes made by current chief executive Stephen Leckie, a member of the fifth generation of Meikle’s family to run the establishment.
The company behind the hotel is now owned by about 200 shareholders, mostly descendants of the founder.
Part of the land earmarked for development on the 900-acre Perthshire estate was previously part of one of the hotel’s two golf courses.