By Frances Fielding
Park of Keir is an historic Greenbelt, part of an ancient designed landscape separating the towns of Bridge of Allan and Dunblane, which also contains an Iron Age Fort. The area is protected against development yet plans have been submitted by King Group, backed by Judy Murray and Colin Montgomerie, to build a hotel, a museum, restaurant and extensive sporting facilities here.
Those who object to these proposals have been accused of being against developing sport in Scotland. But this idea rests on two myths.
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First, opposing building on this site does not mean we are opposed to new sports facilities. We are not. We welcome new facilities to give young people the best opportunity to excel at sport. But why here?
This area is already well provided with sports clubs, tennis clubs and golf courses; the area is well covered with more 28 tennis courts. Despite Judy Murray’s claims that this is a fantastic opportunity for the local community, there is no apparent support for the project from local clubs and organisations.
Secondly, Greenbelt land like Park of Keir is land just waiting for development. It isn’t. Park of Keir is popular with walkers, runners, cyclists and those who just want to enjoy the beauty of the beech woods, bluebells and wildlife. Part of it is also used at present as farm land. Some people like their exercise on courts and pitches. Others like to exercise in wild, undeveloped areas. If the builder has his way and the fields and woods begin to disappear under tarmac and concrete, a precedent will have been set.
Who would bet against there being many more houses here in 10 or 20 years’ time? The greenbelt will be gone. The two towns of Bridge of Allan and Dunblane will merge and, in turn, become part of greater Stirling.
This is quite simply the wrong place for this project. Green councillor Mark Ruskell summed this up when he said: "Good idea. Wrong location."
This controversial site has been the subject of two public inquiries over the past 25 years, both rejecting housing. Revised plans by the developer at present with Stirling Council go against planning policies, Stirling Council’s local development plan, and a Section 75 agreement forbidding any future building development on this land.
A previously approved plan in 2004 was for a golf course and modest hotel only; this proposal is significantly different, as has been pointed out by the planning department.
Judy Murray is quoted as saying she "doesn’t get it". She appears to have turned a deaf ear to the local cries of outrage the plans have caused despite consultations with the community. The developer has reduced the houses from 100 to 19 and added in another bit of "community park", but more than 750 letters have been sent to Stirling Council's planning department opposing the scheme. Two online petitions have gathered nearly 700 signatures and the number is growing daily.
Promises from the developer of a country park, to protect the greenspace that it does not build on, is insulting, given that it would replace the present countryside and wildlife with an urbanised and sanitised version of "parkland".
The land is apparently already protected but this seems to count for nothing. The developer says it will open up the area for walkers and cyclists. Until recently there was free access, but this has changed in the past few weeks and fences have been erected that restrict access. Walking and cycling routes are blocked. Yet we are supposed to have "right to roam responsibly" legislation in Scotland.
There is a bigger picture. Park of Keir is owned by King Group and it is simply interested in building houses. It would be easy to see this latest bid as an altruistic project to provide new sports facilities, if you were unaware of the background.
Judy Murray’s vision could be accomplished elsewhere. There is only one Park of Keir and our vision is to preserve it for future generations.
Frances Fielding writes on behalf of Rage (Residents Against Greenbelt Erosion), Bridge of Allan.