Thai restaurant planned for train carriages in Pitlochry founders

A family’s innovative plans to convert old first-class railway carriages into a Thai restaurant beside Pitlochry station have foundered after a series of knockbacks by councillors.

The McCallums hoped to open The Wee Choo Choo in a car park beside the Perth-Inverness rail line with two 40-year-old inter-city coaches similar to those used for cross-Border trains on the route.

The restaurant was approved by Perth & Kinross councillors in April last year against the advice of officials to refuse it because of the loss of up to 12 parking spaces and pedestrian safety concerns.

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However, two months later, pharmaceuticals marketing executive Fergus McCalIum, his Thai beautician wife Isara and their daughter Mia were told the carriages could not be sited in the car park after councillors voted not to lease the spaces for business use.

Isara, Mia and Fergus McCallum at Pitlochry station

Councillors last week voted to confirm that decision after considering a 1,200-signature petition in support of the restaurant, which included some 500 supporters from Perth & Kinross.

The McCallums said council leader Murray Lyle had pledged to help find an alternative site.

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Fergus said: “We have agreed to replace the lost spaces and complete the works required by the council to provide a home for our beautiful carriages and enable us to open the restaurant.

The carriages have already been repainted in British Rail blue and white. Picture: WG Specialist Coatings

“Our concept is unique, appropriate and exciting, and will add more colour and vibrancy to what’s available in Pitlochry.”

The family said the restaurant would see the carriages – which they have had repainted in the original blue and white British Rail livery – reused rather than scrapped.

Mia said: “I want to build environmentally-friendly business here in my town to encourage other young people in Highland Perthshire to open businesses here.

"What young person in their right mind is going to open in Perthshire when they get treated like this?

How the carriages would have looked on site. Picture: Studio East

“I would understand if our neighbour’s friends and community didn’t want it, but they do. ”

Her mother Isara said: “I love my community and I want to work hard for years to come in my restaurant, serving my community and visitors.”

A Perth & Kinross Council spokesperson said: “In April 2021, the planning and development management committee was minded to grant planning permission subject to a legal agreement to cover the cost of replacing the lost spaces elsewhere.

"However, no lease had been agreed for use of the Rie-Achan Road car park, which is owned by the council.

“As the landowner, and in terms of our duty to deliver best value, the council was required to make a decision whether it was prepared to lease the land for class 3 business use, which covers restaurants, cafes and snack bars.

“When the property sub-committee met in June 2021, it was asked to decide whether to lease the land for class 3 business use in general, not on the merits of any specific proposal.

“Councillors voted five to two against putting the site on the open market for any lease.

"Had they opted to market the site for lease, then all proposals would have to be considered on their own merits.

“The property sub-committee agreed to hear a petition on 10 January asking them to revisit their original decision.

"Councillors voted four-three against doing so and the site will not be put on the open market for any lease.”

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