St Combs development worries
A north-east businessman’s plan to build a tourist hotspot on the site of the former Tufted Duck Hotel could be at risk due to spiralling material costs.
Conrad Ritchie unveiled his ambition to build a new holiday haven in the small fishing village after the popular St Combs venue was demolished in 2021.
His plans were recently given the stamp of approval by Aberdeenshire Council.
Conrad hopes to build a new bistro and bar on the footprint of the hotel, while the site would also have space for 32 motorhomes.
The development would include a block with toilets, showers and laundry facilities for visitors.
However the estimated price to develop the site has doubled since the idea was first lodged with the local authority.
Two years ago, the project would have cost just £600,000 to complete.
But now the businessman could be expected to pay up to £1.2 million.
Conrad blames Aberdeenshire Council’s lengthy planning process, saying it has taken “two very painful long years” to get planning permission for the development.
He added: “A lot of people think this is just going to happen but it won’t unless there is a change in the cost of materials.
“If they come back down to the normal level and stabilise then the project likely will happen.
“But at the moment the cost just makes it unviable.”
The former four-star Tufted Duck hotel was built in 1973, but was taken over by the Ritchie family in 2008.
The pair heavily invested in the venue over the years and it became a popular destination for celebrations such as birthday parties and weddings.
But the couple decided to close the doors to guests for the final time at the beginning of the pandemic after 46 years.
Conrad explained: “For lots of reasons it just wasn’t working.
“Hospitality was really struggling so we went ahead and applied for the demolition warrant and we knocked it down.
“To be honest, once you were inside the old Tufted Duck it was fantastic but from the outside it was an early 1970s ugly box and it just didn’t sit right.”
Conrad and Lesley Ann initially lodged a planning application to rejuvenate the site, however they had to withdraw it due to concerns from council chiefs.
The couple went back to the drawing board and a year later, submitted the updated plan which was approved last week.
But while they waited to gain the local authority’s permission, they found the cost of construction materials kept increasing.
“The reality is, had it been approved 18 months ago then today it would have been built, in operation and employing local people,” Conrad explained.
“I’m in a catch-22 situation, absolutely delighted we’ve got planning permission but it’s not plain sailing.
“There are quite a lot of financial obstacles that we need to overcome if this is going to happen.
“But I keep going back to the fact, had it not taken so long to move through the planning process then we might not be in such a sticky situation.”
But Aberdeenshire Council argued that the lengthy procedure was needed to ensure the proposal would be allowed to go-ahead.
A spokesman explained: “The time taken was necessary to ensure planning approval for the applicant.
“A quicker decision could have been taken in the absence of the necessary information and revisions asked for, but that ultimately would not have resulted in a recommendation of approval for the proposed development.”
The spokesman also noted that the application was submitted and determined within a year.
He said: “The full planning application, following early pre-application advice, was submitted on 17 November but not validated until 21 December 2022.
“Planning permission was subsequently issued on 23 November 2023.”
Conrad was was born and brought up in St Combs, and says he has a personal attachment to the area.
“I want to do the right thing by the area and the people,” he stated.
“When the building was demolished, the intention was always to come back with something that was going to work.
“I think it will work, it all comes down to timing.”
Conrad has already spent more than £200,000 knocking down the former hotel and paying planning and architect fees.
“My heart is still in it but it has to be financially viable and at this moment in time with the way the world is, it’s not looking positive,” he said.
Should the development progress, Conrad aims to name the new restaurant after its predecessor.
He explained: “It’s part of local history and had been there since 1973.
“I’m not saying that I’m in love with the name, but we wouldn’t change it.”
Conrad will now look at the business plan for the project over the next couple of weeks before planning the next steps.
“We’ll have to make a decision. Do we go ahead or do we stall and at this stage, I don’t know.”