Plans to refurbish at-risk Caldwell House by using funds raised from building a retirement village in its greenbelt grounds have been rejected.
Developers described the proposal as the “last chance” to save the dilapidated A-listed building at Uplawmoor. They wanted to turn the Robert Adam-designed property into 15 assisted living flats and create a new village on the Caldwell Estate.
But an extended East Renfrewshire planning committee turned down the application, despite officials recommending the scheme could go ahead.
Councillors had concerns over the felling of trees and the impact on health services, including pressure on GPs.
Caldwell Developments’ proposed village, exclusively for over 55s, would have included a 60-bed care home, 51 assisted living flats and 122 bungalows as well as offices, a cafe, shop and a hair and beauty salon.
The developers reported a conservation deficit of £11m and said the “enabling development” – the village – would cost £52.8m and raise £63.9m, covering the shortfall. They also said 85 jobs would be created on-site.
As well as saving Caldwell House, the project would have revamped the B-listed Keeper’s House. Planning officials admitted the proposal was contrary to a number of policies but concluded the “benefits of restoring Grade A-listed Caldwell House outweigh the environmental and other impacts”.
However, councillors, who visited the site before making a decision, disagreed. Cllr Annette Ireland said she believed the application went against both national and local planning policies.
She said Scottish policy states “semi-natural woodland is an irreplaceable resource and along with other woodlands and hedgerows and individual trees should be protected from adverse impacts resulting from development”.
“I think this would have a quite severe adverse impact on the ancient woodland,” she added. The councillor also had concerns over a “reliance on private car travel” to the site and the “adverse impact on existing community facilities”, such as health services.
Cllr Katie Pragnell, the council’s convener for health and social work, added: “I have real concerns about this development, especially around GP provision. I don’t believe it’s sustainable in the long-term to rely on people paying for their beds in the care home.
“We know in the past, in East Renfrewshire, care homes have failed and this has led to local authorities having to come in and take over the provision of care.”
East Renfrewshire’s health and social care partnership (HSCP) had concerns “around the addition of unfunded costs for health and social care provision resulting from such a large development” and “persistently high vacancy rates at existing care home facilities”.
Scottish Forestry was “not supportive” of the application as it requires deforestation. The Woodland Trust also objected “on the basis of damage and loss to a number of areas of woodland”.
Around six hectares of woodland would have been removed for development, with 4.5 hectares replaced on-site and two hectares proposed off-site. Other areas (17.2 hectares) would be felled and replanted as part of woodland management proposals.
Historic Environment Scotland welcomed the application as it believes the “detrimental impacts on its parkland setting” are outweighed by “securing the long-term preservation of the house”.
The planning committee also heard from Stas Burek, who lives in a cottage on the estate, who said the listed building “doesn’t feature in any of Adam’s mainstream biographies or catalogues of his work”.
“That’s probably because it was never built to his original specifications,” he added. “The proposal is in effect to restore the house to something it never actually was.”
He said council policies recognise the need for “limited development” to support the restoration of Caldwell House but he believed the proposal was not “limited” in “this rural, greenbelt context”.
Bob Salter, representing Caldwell Developments, said there was “an urgent need for restoration” and “attempts to find uses for these buildings in the past have not come to fruition”.
“You have the opportunity to save Caldwell House for future generations,” he said. “You have the opportunity to approve a proposal that will create jobs, substantially improve the local environment and properly manage the estate in perpetuity.”
He described the building as an “early example of the castle-style design by the world-famous Scottish architect Robert Adam”. “It is a historic building worthy of conservation for the nation.”
Mr Salter said the proposal would “raise the necessary funds with the least environmental impact” and “allows mature woodlands to be properly managed for the first time in decades”.
Most trees removed would have “limited biodiversity value”, he added. “The improved estate will be open and accessible to all.”