Pitlochry anger over motel plans

IT HAS been attracting tourists since Queen Victoria first put it on the map in 1842.

But residents of one of Highland Scotland's most historic and picturesque towns are now fighting development plans that they fear could destroy an "irreplaceable Victorian townscape".

Upland Developments wants to build a 52-bed budget motel and Tesco convenience store on the main street through Pitlochry in Highland Perthshire. The Pitlochry Conservation Society claims, however, that the project will ruin the town centre - with its 19 listed buildings, Scottish baronial-style rooftops, crow-stepped gables, and intricate stonework - by submerging it under a concrete blanket of "merciless overdevelopment".

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The town's high street already features a 'pound' shop, launderette, charity shops, countless tartan tourist traps, a backpackers' hostel, and a "Christmas emporium". Residents say the budget hotel is the final straw and they are also campaigning to stop Upland Developments from demolishing Bank House, a Victorian villa on the site.

They have now won the support of the government's conservation agency, Historic Scotland, which is also opposed to the plans to transform the Atholl Road site into a hotel, retail and residential development.

It claims that the plans lodged with Perth and Kinross Council will result in the loss of an important green space in the heart of the Victorian town and that the removal of historic buildings in a conservation area has not been "adequately justified".

James Tyrrell, chairman of the PCS, said that established conservation areas must be "respected and kept free from harmful redevelopment".

He said: "To build a budget hotel on top of a convenience store in the middle of Pitlochry defies belief. The big fear is that Scotland is going to lose yet another irreplaceable Victorian townscape to mediocrity.

"We've seen the drawings and really it cannot be anything other than a budget hotel - rooms only, no dining facility, no lounge, no bar - it is as basic as it gets. It is a massive building - it's about one and a half times bigger than the biggest building in the main street. This proposal would be out of place in a town of 70,000, let alone a town of 2,500 people.

"Why on earth swap a Victorian jewel for a plaster fake? It benefits no-one, simply disestablishing local families who are giving excellent service as shopkeepers or accommodation providers and cheapening the town's image to tourists."

The conservation society cites Aviemore as the perfect example of how a traditional Highland town can be overwhelmed by development."In a recent visit to Aviemore I was saddened by the lack of those traditional stone-built shops that so characteristically typify the uniqueness of towns and villages bordering the A9 from Perth to Inverness. We fear that is what is happening to Pitlochry. It's a disgrace.

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"Aviemore has become a clone town and it differs little from what you would find almost anywhere. Fine craftsmanship by expert stonemasons has been discarded as landfill and replaced with breezeblock and plaster.

He claimed: "The objections of local townspeople here are ignored by a local authority based only 28 miles away. As a result, speculative developers move in. It is not just Pitlochry's loss; eventually the whole country loses. It is hard to imagine any Swiss or Austrian ski town being destroyed by short-sighted and totally inappropriate development."

A spokesman for another local protest group, Residents Against Inappropriate Developments (RAID), added: "If the plans of the proposed town centre development remain much the same as we have already seen, it will be a disaster for Pitlochry."

However, some residents believe that Pitlochry is a dying town desperate for development, and must move with the times.

While Pitlochry and Moulin Community Council has objected to plans by Upland Developments to demolish Bank House, it has supported the building of a motel complex on Atholl Road. Members have also accused the conservation society of being "anti-business".

Davy Nelson, who has been manager at Pitlochry Discount Store for the past four years, has had enough and is moving out of the town, lamenting the "constant bickering and squabbling between the committees in the town".

He said: "Pitlochry is dying on its feet. Empty shops and lack of public toilets are just some of the examples."