In July 2015 the owners of the hill, Allanwater Developments, launched their fourth attempt to build. (One of the previous attempts, for the Perth Road, had been withdrawn almost immediately. To see the history of the other two, visit Office Block One and Braeport Meadow .)
This time the developers relied less on the 1987 Section 75 agreement between Stirling District Council and Stakis PLC. This agreement (binding on subsequent proprietors) ruled out building on the hill, with one exception: the Council had acknowledged that the old house site would be suitable for offices. Having failed with an application for offices on the footprint, Allanwater changed tack and proposed a huge luxury house instead. The plans showed a ground floor area of 502 square metres.
Their proposal relied heavily on the idea that the proposed house would "restore" a residential building to Holmehill. In fact, of course, the previous house was demolished 35 years ago, having become derelict, and the land has since been designated as green space.
The developers admitted
It is accepted that the proposed development is contrary to the provisions of the current development plan. However, it is submitted that there [are] strong and compelling material considerations which would support an approval of the application.
but they didn't indicate very clearly what could possibly "compel" the building of a six-bedroom house with a swimming pool.
We strongly opposed this application, as did a very large number of local residents. We made the following points, among others:
- Contrary to local policies
During the Stirling Council Local Plan consultation the future of Holmehill was fully consulted and the final decision was a clear designation that the whole of Holmehill should be "Open Space and Green Network". At the final review stage, in 2014, Scottish Government Reporters weighed the conflicting demands for housing and offices against the need for open space. They clearly and decisively opted for the open space designation, thus giving this area - the "Green Heart of Dunblane" protection from built development - a protection that had been in place since 1999. In 2013 the Council rejected AWD's plans to build on the same site. Many of the reasons for refusal still apply: in particular that "the proposals will not enhance the Holmehill open space and will adversely affect the amenity, outdoor recreation, landscape and nature conservation value of Holmehill to the detriment of its role within the local green corridor network".
- Visual impact
The application claims that the building would have no visual impact on Dunblane. This is manifestly untrue. The proposed site is very close to the edge of the plateau of Holmehill, above a steep slope down to Smithy Loan. The house would be 60 metres away from Smithy Loan, with its roof some 22 metres above the road surface. To the east of the house very few trees would remain to screen the new house from the Perth Road, the Hydro, and the classic villas on the east side of Dunblane.
- Environmental issues
Any building would damage future use and the environmental integrity of Holmehill, which is recorded as having rich and varied wildlife. Mature trees could be damaged by the construction process, impacting on wildlife and the visual appearance. In 2013 and 2014 the applicant illegally felled trees on the site of the current application, thus creating the space for the new house and garden.
- Inappropriate development
The application stresses that it is a replacement for the old house, saying it "seeks to restore to Holme Hill a residential villa". But in the last 35 years Holmehill has been fully developed elsewhere, by the building of Holmehill Court and the houses on the west of Smithy Loan. The old house site has become green space. Current planning policies reflect these changes.
- Application incomplete
Although this is an application for Full planning permission, it does not say anything about the development of the access road, in particular the listed gatehouse and pillars. Nor does it discuss how the boundary with the rest of the site will be treated. Impact on wildlife is barely mentioned.
In October 2015 Allanwater withdrew the application. They had learned that a formal refusal was pending. We used a Freedom of Information request obtain access to the Planning Officer's draft reasons for refusal: these included the following text.
"The proposals are deemed to be contrary to the Local Development Plan and Supplementary Planning Guidance for a number of reasons.
"The proposals are situated within a site identified by the LDP as being within the Green Corridor and an Open Space Audit site. The site is also situated within the Dunblane Conservation Area.
"The proposals are deemed to be contrary to Policy 1.3 Green Network and Open Space of the LDP in that the proposals are deemed to encroach upon existing open spaces and green corridors and do not maintain or enhance functionality and connectivity (active travel routes, habitat networks, etc). The proposals will result in the net reduction of open space, including loss of connectivity and accessibility and are not deemed to enhance elements of the Green Network.
"There is also a presumption against the loss of open space, under this policy, unless its loss or replacement with alternative provision is deemed acceptable. No compensation measures have been identified by the applicant. The loss of land is deemed unacceptable.
"Policy 7.2, Development within and outwith Conservation Areas, is also relevant to this application. The proposals are not deemed to comply with this policy as it is deemed to have a detrimental impact on the Conservation Area, will not preserve or enhance the area in terms of character, appearance or setting.
"The proposals are also deemed contrary to policy as it does not relate to the density or pattern of the existing development area in terms of the design, massing or scale. The proposals lead to the loss, not retention as stated in 7.2.(ii), of the natural features which contribute to the character of the Conservation Area and its setting.
"The applicant states that the site is a brownfield site, this is acknowledged in that there was previously a building on the site. However, brownfield sites are described as land that has been previously developed and are occupied by redundant buildings, or where the site has been significantly degraded by a former activity. Within the site there is no evidence of the site being developed previously as the land is in a 100% natural state. There is no evidence on site of degradation by a former use or activity and therefore cannot be considered as brownfield.
"There have been over 110 objections received regarding this application including objections from Dunblane Community Council and the Holmehill Community Buyout Group.
"An application was submitted in 2012 for the development of this site. This application was refused."
We were delighted that the judgement corresponded so closely with our arguments.
Image: Architect's drawing of proposed house. From the planning application to Stirling Council.