Taymouth Castle development: Kenmore’s Local Heroes want US developer Discovery Land Company’s multi-million-pound plans to go ahead – Murdo Fraser
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the release of Bill Forsyth’s classic movie Local Hero, telling the story of an American billionaire oil executive who plans to develop an unspoilt corner of Scotland and change the lives of local residents forever. In the subsequent period, parallels have been drawn with the activities of another well-known American tycoon, Donald Trump, in his purchase of the Menie Estate in Aberdeenshire to create his golf course complex.
More recently another Local Hero-style battle would appear to be developing in the picturesque village of Kenmore at the east end of Loch Tay in Perthshire. This centres around the development of Taymouth Castle, historic seat of the Campbells of Breadalbane, and one of the grandest private houses in Scotland. The current building, mostly dating to the 19th century, was created at vast expense by the Marquesses of Breadalbane, with the second Marquess entertaining Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1842.
In more recent years, the castle has had a chequered history, serving as a war-time hospital, a boarding school, and as a hotel. Since 1982, it has passed through various hands with a series of stalled attempts to restore it and find a long-term, viable use. It now belongs to the Discovery Land Company (DLC) of Arizona, which is engaged in a project worth hundreds of millions to develop it and the surrounding estate into a high-end resort for international visitors.
All this has attracted the attention of a Facebook group calling themselves “Protect Loch Tay”, whose online petition demanding a halt to the development has so far attracted over 130,000 signatures. They claim that access to the land around Kenmore will be lost and the peace and tranquillity on and around Loch Tay destroyed by the development of “a private resort for the mega-rich”.
So far, so ‘Local Hero’. Who wouldn’t want to support a group of plucky local residents fighting off plans by American billionaires to despoil a beautiful part of Perthshire? Scratch beneath the surface, though, and the reality might be somewhat different.
Last week, representatives of the local community council in Kenmore and district hit back against Protect Loch Tay, accusing them of being “undemocratic, misinformed and completely unrepresentative of the wishes of local folk”. The community council points to economic investment in the area, and is concerned that campaigning against the development is chasing away visitors and harming existing businesses. In the words of their chairman, Peter Ely, “we really don’t need anonymous people from all around the world telling us how to manage our wee community”.
These views are reflective of the opinions of local representatives, including other community councils surrounding Loch Tay. Supporters point to an influx of workers on the estate living in properties which were formerly holiday lets, and their children being enrolled in local schools. In addition, DLC is sponsoring local activities and acting as a good investor should.
Speaking to local residents at the Aberfeldy Show and Highland Games on Saturday, I was struck by how much support there was for the Taymouth Castle development. One local contractor working on the estate has seen a substantial expansion in his business and the creation of dozens of new jobs as a direct result of this US investment.
So what has motivated the 130,000-plus individuals, from all parts of the world, who have signed the petition against the development, and who appear to be out of touch with the views of the local community? Some of it, I suspect, is down to misinformation. DLC is adamant the company is not creating a “gated community” at Taymouth Castle, and indeed under Scotland’s access laws such a thing would not be possible.
There may be darker reasons behind some of the objections. Some will, I fear, be motivated by the politics of envy and the dislike of the wealthy. Some of it may be motivated by xenophobia against an American company.
But behind all this lies a broader conflict, and one that we see played out in other parts of rural Scotland, whether in relation to the creation of highly protected marine areas, the clampdown on traditional country sports such as grouse shooting, or the over-regulation of self-catering accommodation. It is the growing sense in many parts of rural Scotland that the views of local communities are being ignored in favour of a ‘centre knows best' approach being handed down from those who have no connection with, or understanding of, life in rural Scotland.
There are those who would love to see the Scottish Highlands and other rural areas cease to be host to any sort of economic activity, preserved as some sort of static museum piece, devoid of people. And yet the reality is that in many of our underpopulated rural communities, the most endangered species today is Homo sapiens. Unless we are prepared to see investment and development in communities such as Kenmore, they will die, and become purely the preserve of holiday lets and second homeowners.
There is something deeply undemocratic in the calls from Protect Loch Tay to demand that the Scottish Government step in and halt the Taymouth Castle development. The works on the castle currently ongoing are largely based on a planning consent granted as far back as 2011. It is a matter for Perth and Kinross Council, as the democratically elected local planning authority, to take decisions on what happens in the area, not for distant Scottish ministers to interfere.
The signatories to the petition, from wherever in the world, surely are not entitled to seek to override the wishes of the local community in Kenmore and its elected representatives? The real local heroes around Loch Tay are, in this case, those who want to see the development of Taymouth Castle proceed, with new jobs created and others sustained for the future. In time, we will thank them.
Murdo Fraser is a Scottish Conservative MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife
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