Perth split over plan to build on top of listed home

A HIGHLAND laird whose contentious plans to transform his estate into a £1.3 billion private playground for the world’s super-rich were rejected is now embroiled in a planning row over ­ambitious proposals to develop his home.

The planned apartments close to John Smeaton's landmark bridge. Picture: Contributed
The planned apartments close to John Smeaton's landmark bridge. Picture: Contributed

Malcolm James, owner of the Dall estate on the shores of Loch Rannoch, has submitted plans to Perth and Kinross council that involve removing the attic floor from a three storey Georgian C-listed building and constructing a “town house” on top of the structure complete with a roof top garden and a swimming pool.

The plans have left the small community Bridgend, a suburb of Perth, bitterly divided. Opponents include Historic Scotland and the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland, and residents who claim the new design looks more like an air traffic control tower or an oil rig than a family home.

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Among the objections lodged with the council was a comment describing the plans as “the most hideous carbuncle in urban design”. But the scheme does have its supporters. Perth Left Bank Community Development Trust has said the new-look home could help spearhead the revival of Bridgend, originally a leper colony on the edge of the city.

When public comment on the scheme closed last week there were two letters in support of the project and almost 180 objections, including a petition signed by more than 100 residents and visitors.

Elena Costella, who owns a yarn and fibre studio on Main Street opposite the development site, helped to organise the petition against. She told Scotland on Sunday the “hideous” plan could seriously damage the hopes of residents and businesses to turn Bridgend, having at one side John Smeaton’s landmark bridge, into a vibrant artisan quarter.

“It looks as if some kind of alien spaceship has landed on the building. It would be the silliest addition to the top of a somewhat shabby chic, but beautiful, Georgian building,” she said. “Bridgend is a sort of ‘Miss Havisham’ community and if we could just get the cobwebs brushed away and some light on it then all the possibility is there. What it needs is a facelift – not ­destruction.”

Stuart Glencorse, a Bridgend resident, said: “This is a monstrosity of a building which is going to totally dominate the landscape. It’s like plonking an oil rig in the middle of Perth.”

Susan Morrison, another objector, states in a letter to Perth and Kinross Council: “Should it (the town house) go ahead you can bet that one day it will win an award but most likely the ‘Plook on the Plinth’ award for the most hideous carbuncle in urban design.” Local opponents are backed by Historic Scotland. Leigh Johnston, the agency’s Heritage Management Team Leader, states in a letter: “We consider the height, massing and scale of the proposal will detract significantly from the focus of the bridge by introducing a highly incongruous element of townscape which is at odds with all its neighbours and which will sit very awkwardly on top of the listed building.”

A spokesman for the Architectural Heritage Society said: “This type of modern architecture has its place and is to be encouraged but, most emphatically, not in this area, involving as it does such radical mutilation of the listed building.” But the Left Bank trust are backing the plan. Chairman Dave Beattie states in a letter to the council that Bridgend has become a “very run down part of the city”, ­suffering from “sheer neglect” which is now attracting local drug users.

“One of the principal aims of the trust is to assist in the regeneration of the Bridgend area and, with the continuing lack of public funding, it looks like Bridgend will need to rely on private investors in order to move forward to a more presentable future,” he said. “We see this proposal as a major statement which seeks to capitalise on the significant, but hidden charms of the area.” Three years ago James submitted proposals to develop his Highland estate into a playground where only the “multi-multi-billionaires” of the world would be welcomed, but councillors turned down the plan.

James could not be contacted for comment. His architect Fergus Purdie, of Perth-based Fergus Purdie Architects, said: “It would be the first phase of an urban regeneration project within the Bridgend area. It is an area that has been running down for decades and this is the first stage of a private investor saying ‘I can do something in this corner’ and then seeing what other opportunities are available.”

Twitter: @FrankUrquhart1