THE proposed Taymouth Castle development has raised a number of profound and challenging issues for all of us in Scotland. We as a nation rightly value and cherish our beautiful rural locations, and they do not come more beautiful than the area around Kenmore and Loch Tay.

For us, access to our countryside is a right that has been long fought over and is jealously guarded because of the 2003 Land Reform Act. We view our right to roam as non-negotiable.

As a nation, we’ve also had the experience of centuries of skewed land ownership and exclusion. Our land has been seen as little more than a playground for those with wealth and resources. We are still raw from that historic and cultural experience and we are sensitive to any suggestion that this remains a feature of our community.

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We also have a built heritage that is second to none. The problem is not all of it is in good condition and much of it remains out of use, even dilapidated. Taymouth Castle is an example of one of our great architectural gems that has fallen into disrepair. Built between 1801 and 1842 it was one of Scotland’s finest buildings, with an interior regarded as one of the finest examples of 19th century artisanship.

After decades of neglect, the castle has been empty since 1982. Many attempts and plans have come forward to bring the castle back into use, only to flounder on the massive costs that renovation would require. This ended when American investors Discovery Land Company (DLC) acquired the castle in 2018 and had plans approved to develop an exclusive “community” on the estate.

Whilst many rightly raise legitimate concerns about the exclusive nature of DLC’s proposal – and the suggestion that this will become a “millionaire’s playground” – many residents in Kenmore (below) are supportive of the development and welcome it as an opportunity to bring economic activity, jobs, and high-value visitors to the area.

The National: The bridge at Kenmore.

DLC’s recent acquisitions of prime community facilities such as the local shop and hotel in Kenmore have further compounded the view that the community is simply being taken over by a rich American company seeking to cater exclusively for their clients.

It was amidst these tensions that John Swinney and I held a public meeting to properly air all the issues and seek the views of the local community. Such was the demand to attend that we had to change the location. Hundreds of concerned locals turned up to Aberfeldy Town Hall.

We heard many concerns about the exclusive nature of the facility, particularly round the suggestion that this would be a “gated” community, with locals and visitors being denied access to the estate grounds. Many raised concerns about the damage that would be wrought on the stunning countryside and cherished natural assets. Many feared for the future of Kenmore and Loch Tay if it was to become some sort of “exclusive” visitor destination.

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We also heard from those who welcomed the proposal, who saw this as a means to regenerate a community seen to be in decline, and who looked to the opportunities presented by such a lavish and expensive redevelopment. In addition, we had many contributions that looked to the bigger picture about how land in Scotland is utilised and the need for a holistic and sustainable way forward.

Whilst it would be impossible to bring all of these conflicting views together, certain key principles came out of the meeting.

Firstly, there is the general agreement that DLC’s communication and engagement have been absolutely woeful. The community want to be able to put their concerns directly to DLC and they want to see a clear presentation of what they propose for the area in its entirety. Following a meeting that John Swinney and I had with DLC, this is something that they have now committed to undertake.

Secondly, there can be no question of a gated community. The suggestion that somehow thousands of hectares of rural Scotland can be “closed off” to the public simply cannot be allowed to stand and the development will have to adhere to Scottish Government legislation when it comes to the right to roam. DLC have the right to offer the necessary security for its guests, but it will have to be proportionate and cannot be at the expense of cherished rights.

Thirdly, the Kenmore community have to be assured that the facilities and assets in the village are quickly re-opened and remain public-facing and free for all to enjoy. This includes the beach, the hotel, the shop and acquired businesses round the lochside.

Finally, core paths and public amenities on the estate are to remain free for use and DLC should look to assist with the dire lack of housing in the community to accommodate the many people who will presumably be re-locating to the village.

The National: There are plans to turn Taymouth Castle into a ‘clubhouse’ at the centre of a members-only resort

In all, there was a sense that if done properly, this could be an opportunity to bring one of Scotland’s greatest built assets back into use and allow development for the community.

The key lesson in all of this is that if companies bring forward such controversial proposals, they must develop their plans in conjunction with the local community and ensure that they are fully informed at every juncture of the development’s journey. Developments such as this should not be “done” to the community.

What this exercise shows is just how much we care as a nation. We care about our wild spaces and beautiful places. We care about access to our land and issues of land ownership. There will be other developments like Taymouth Castle in the future and they will be equally controversial. It is up to all of us to see that this is done right.