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February 8, 2017

Planning stramash

The planning system often appears to sit in two parallel universes. In one universe, the theoretical one, a local authority consults widely in drafting its Local Development Plan, developers submit planning applications which accord with the Plan, communities’ views are fully taken into account, and the decisions of the Council’s Planning Committee are an expression of effective local democracy. In the other universe, none of the above applies and anyone, including the First Minister, gets dragged into the ensuing stramash. No doubting which universe the communities around Park of Keir are part of.


Dunblane Community Council

                                                    DUNBLANE COMMUNITY COUNCIL.                                                                   

                                        Dunblane – Park of Keir – Tennis Centre and Housing 

Dear First Minister,

As the chair of Dunblane Community Council I am writing to you about the proposed development of a large tennis centre and housing at the Park of Keir, Dunblane, which is currently being considered by Kevin Stewart, Planning Minister (DPEA case PPA-390-2042).

Last week, it is reported that John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons, has written to you in support of the development, and that his representation ‘will be taken into account’ by the Scottish Government. 

It is regrettable that the Speaker of the House of Commons should seek to intervene in a Scottish planning matter, and for him to press such a strong case for a commercial development is deplorable.

However, as the Scottish Government has said that it will consider additional representations about this planning appeal, I would be grateful if you could take into account our updated view of this development, which follow from a number of recent announcements.  

Dunblane Community Council welcomes the Scottish Government’s plan to give communities a more active role in planning their future. Kevin Stewart’s announcement on 22 December 2016 on the extension of the Community Empowerment Act stated that “When people have greater control of their own future, they are more engaged and are able to tackle barriers to making their communities wealthier and fairer.”  We agree completely with that sentiment.

The subsequent launch on 10 January 2017 of a consultation on the future of the Scottish planning system entitled “Places, people and planning” shows the desire to seek greater involvement from communities in the planning process.  We not only support this desire, we intend to participate fully.

Our decision to oppose this particular development at Park of Keir, Dunblane, has been informed by a full analysis of the facts and reflects the views of the Dunblane community.

In our full participation in the Local Planning Inquiry, we based our case on two fundamental points: the damage to our community by the scale of the development, especially the housing, and its location in the green space which separates us from adjacent communities and which maintains the identity of our town with its own 1,000 year history.

Park of Keir is a precious site, critical to the special identity of our community, which would be changed beyond recognition if the proposal is approved. Yet this major facility is being proposed without a viable ongoing business plan and on the basis of the information presented will probably need on-going financial support. 

Our analysis clearly established that the twelve-court tennis centre and the accompanying golf facility require an unrealistically high level of utilisation just to approach a break-even operation.  The proposal is reliant on users coming from a wide area of Central Scotland – as Judy Murray’s description of the site: “at a roundabout slap-bang in the middle of Scotland” indicates.  The site is only realistically accessible by car, which renders it unusable by large sectors of the population, especially the very people that the centre is intended to help. 

The ‘enabling housing development’ offers little real financial support to the tennis facility, once the landowners and development costs are paid. 

Judy Murray admits that the tennis facilities will run at a loss, but the six hole golf course, which is included to provide ongoing financial support is using an untried, large hole, format with no certainty that it will produce the income necessary to support all the other aspirations.

The Local Planning Inquiry closed in September 2016, almost five months ago. 

On 20 December 2016 the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) and sportscotland announced a ground-breaking £15 million ?joint-funding agreement to start in 2017. Their ambition, in partnership with Tennis Scotland, is to transform tennis in Scotland by doubling the number of covered courts from 112 to 225 over the next 5-10 years, with the objective of significantly increasing participation. They are looking for local partners who can bring a financial contribution to make the investment more sustainable. The full application plan for community led bids will be established by April 2017.

This is exactly what Judy Murray has been seeking: as she said about the £40m LTA facility at Roehampton (which has since closed down) “If someone had given me £40?million I would have built 40 £1?million centres.”

This announcement by the LTA is critical to the outcome of the Park of Keir appeal, as had it been confirmed prior to the Local Planning Inquiry we would have been able to demonstrate that the Park of Keir proposal is even less financially viable than we demonstrated at the Inquiry.

We are delighted to see that Judy Murray’s persistence has been rewarded by the LTA and that communities all over Scotland will be able to benefit from the Murray legacy.  Judy Murray presented the Park of Keir project as the only way she could achieve a lasting legacy, but the funding to start the creation of another 113 indoor tennis courts across Scotland removes a major part of the justification of this big central tennis facility, as many of the projected users will have local indoor tennis facilities much nearer to their home.  Therefore, even fewer people will need or want to spend time and money driving to Park of Keir, and the justification for such a facility on this site will have gone.

The LTA Chief Executive Michael Downey stated in this announcement “this investment will bring certainty of play to a climate that sees on average 200 days of rain a year”.  We agree with this, which is why we argued that the Park of Keir’s six planned outdoor courts will be unusable for large parts of the year, although they add significantly to the capital and ongoing cost requirements. 

In effect, the LTA and sportscotland have now found the funding to deliver Judy Murray’s preferred solution.  We consider it is doubtful that Judy Murray would have embarked on this controversial and strongly opposed course of action over three years ago, if the LTA/sportscotland funding had been available then.

To sum up, we feel it would be a travesty if the Murray legacy programme, which is focused on community involvement and community led bids, resulted in their home town of Dunblane becoming the one place where a tennis centre was imposed on the community against its wishes.

We ask that you show decisive leadership, ignore the pressure from the celebrities, politicians and sports writers, and reject this expensive, high risk and divisive development. That would allow us to work with the LTA, sportscotland and the Murray family to find a community-led solution to the provision of tennis facilities in Dunblane – a solution that is appropriate to the size of the town and to its place at the heart of the tennis revival in Britain.

Yours sincerely,

Terence O’Byrne, Chair Dunblane Community Council