Plans to build a cafe and visitor centre close to one of Falkirk district’s most distinctive landmarks, the Dunmore Pineapple, have been refused by councillors.
On Thursday, members of Falkirk Council’s planning committee narrowly voted against the proposal from George Russell Construction Ltd, which would also have seen 82 bungalows being built on farmland near Airth.
Members were told that as the landowner, George Russell had intended to run the cafe and visitor centre with his family and the 82 houses were necessary to crossfund the centre and make necessary road improvements.
The developer’s agent, David Jones, said the centre would be a huge boost for tourism locally, building on the success of attractions such as the Kelpies and the Falkirk Wheel.
He told councillors that Mr Russell has a similar business, Soutra, in Midlothian, and pointed to the success of other local businesses such as the cafe at Canada Wood and the Smiddy.
However, the Pineapple’s owners, the National Trust for Scotland, previously made it clear they were not connected in anyway with the proposals and formally objected to the project.
They also expressed doubt about the number of visitors projected for the centre, which is currently used as holiday accommodation by the Landmark Trust.
Conservative councillor Jim Flynn said he was in favour of the project, saying that it would bring jobs to the village, particularly for young people, and boost tourism.
“As a council we very much want to promote tourism and not just encourage people to visit the Kelpies. There is a wealth of cultural history in this Parish that needs to be captured,” he said.
He also felt that the agreed changes to the road and to the pavement, including a new roundabout, would improve road safety on the east side of the village and enhance the area.
But another local member, Councillor Laura Murtagh, was firmly behind the planning officers, who recommended that the development be rejected for several reasons.
The homes and visitor centre would be out-with the current village boundaries and planning officers felt that the scale, layout and design would “fundamentally change the area from rural to residential”.
They also rejected that idea that planting could be used for screening the development as that would affect the open views across the carse.
Planners also cast doubt on the plans for the actual housing, saying one long cul-de-sac with uniform house types was not idea.
They were also concerned that the developers had not demonstrated there was a suitable, safe and convenient footway connection between the village and the proposed visitor centre.
Cllr Murtagh was also concerned that the planning application showed that the development would only be profitable if George Russell, as landowner, gifted the land for construction.
She said that would be a risk at any time, but particularly in a time of such economic uncertainty with high inflation there were no guarantees that the project would succeed.
She was also concerned to hear that the developers were no longer insisting that the houses should be restricted to people aged over 55.
That had raised concerns that the new homes would put pressure on local health services but Cllr Murtagh said that people had understood that the homes would not put pressure on local schools and the change was an important one for the community.