The loss of a 25-bedroom guesthouse has been lamented as a victim of both the oil slump and new competition by councillors who have agreed it can be transformed into family homes.
Lairhillock Lodge, near Stonehaven, closed for almost a year, and its owner Jenny Ironside has now been given approval to extend the building and turn it into two three-bedroom and three four-bedroom homes, of which one will be allocated as affordable housing.
Members of Aberdeenshire Council’s infrastructure services committee said they were sad about the loss of the lodge before agreeing it was fair it should be granted a new lease of life.
Lead planner Neil Stewart told members the local authority has a duty to “protect tourism development and protect the unjustified loss of tourism facilities where we can”.
“The policies require a demonstration that the development is unviable,” he added. “We consider there’s enough information in the planning statement and that the financial accounts have been vetted by our economic development colleagues to allow the loss of this facility.”
Built in 2009, the the business let a healthy average of 4,400 rooms per year until 2016, but by 2017 the amount of rooms booked per year halved. As trade showed no sign of returning, the lodge was placed on the market in 2019.
Daniel Harrington, of T.H.E. Architecture + Planning, speaking on behalf of Mrs Ironside, said: “During 2017 reduced oil prices significantly affected the local economy and there were major reductions in business travel in the Aberdeen area which was compounded by the development of a large number of new hotels in accessible locations to Aberdeen.
“Some of the temporary works around the AWPR restricted access to the lodge for a temporary period and so had an effect on trade.
“The lodge, due to its location and design has been mainly suited to the business trade and unable to complete with those new larger hotels in locations close to the main transport hubs.
“More recently the loss of the Lairhillock Inn next door has further detracted from the attractiveness of this location for guests. Losses have been increasing since 2018.”
North Kincardine councillor Ian Mollison added: “I was on the area committee when we approved this development and it was a bit of a leap of faith at that time some years ago.
“It has been given a good trial and we cannot fault the owners for their efforts. There has been the oil slum, new hotels and the loss of the inn next door to contend with.”
A separate application has recently been submitted by the owner of adjacent Lairhillock Inn to turn it into five homes.
The committee also approved an application from Aberdeenshire Council for a new 12-home development of affordable housing in Rothienorman and the creation of 13 short-term holiday lets in Rhynie.
The former was granted despite concerns from Rothienorman residents over flooding, traffic worries and a perceived lack of need for the new homes. It also meant a departure from the local development plan.
Meanwhile, the approval of 13 holiday lets on land north-east of Birch Cottage in Rhynie was granted to local man Ian Duxbury, though with an added condition that a travel plan be added to the application by Inverurie-based RJM Architectural Design.