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Plans to save Aberdeen’s Tolbooth Museum, new homes for site of explosion-hit Auchenblae hotel, Cheerz outdoor seating approved despite addiction charity’s fears

Aberdeen Tolbooth Museum is in bad need of repairs before it can reopen
Aberdeen Tolbooth Museum won't be able to reopen until a package of repairs is carried out. Image from Roddie Reid, design team.

Welcome to Planning Ahead – our weekly round-up of the latest proposals lodged across the north-east.

This week we look at plans to secure the future of one of Granite City’s oldest buildings – the historic Union Street jailhouse now run as the Aberdeen Tolbooth Museum.

With Halloween around the corner, it seems an appropriate time to unveil the scheme for what’s supposed to be one of Scotland’s most haunted buildings…

And there are spirits of another kind on the menu in Huntly – with plans to turn an empty bank into a new whisky shop approved!

But first, a prominent empty building near Aberdeen Harbour could soon be granted a new lease of life.

Harbour base for old seafarers could become offices

Aberdeen Seafarers Centre began life in 2008, offering “spiritual, emotional and physical support” to those who make their living at sea.

The charity also extends a helping hand to retirees and families.

Aberdeen Seafarers Centre was a prominent landmark opposite the port. Image from Google Maps

In 2010, organisers opened its dedicated base on Market Street.

And three years later an impressed Princess Royal made a visit, staying late to hear all about the work of volunteers.

Princess Anne officially opened the Aberdeen Seafarers centre in September 2013, here with chaplain Howard Drysdale.

But in recent years, the charity relocated to Regent Quay.

And in 2020, its former home was sold for £171,000 at auction.

The building is just off the busy A956 road outside the city centre.

Now plans have been lodged by maintenance specialists JOR Property Ltd to turn it into a new office block.

Blueprints show how the ground, first, second and third floors could all be converted.

Under the scheme, a recreation room would become open plan space while the former chaplain’s office and TV room would be smaller offices.

Huntly bank to become new whisky shop

Plans to turn an abandoned TSB in the centre of Huntly into a new whisky shop have been sealed by Aberdeenshire Council.

The propoals were submitted by Malcolm Littler, of DSTW Properties Ltd, more than a year after the branch closed last February.

The former TSB at 7 The Square in Huntly. Picture by Jason Hedges

Council planning chiefs have now approved the series of alterations to the C-listed building.

Blueprints indicate how “display barrels” will be dotted about the floor, with locked cabinets hosting the most expensive malts.

The new Whiskies of Scotland building will use the first floor as the tasting room, and the second floor for storage.

This design image will show how the new addition to Huntly town centre will look on the ground floor. Supplied by John Wink Design
And here is the concept for the tasting room upstairs.

It comes shortly after DSTW’s plans to transform the B-listed Bank of Scotland nearby were approved.

Peterhead EV chargers

Aberdeenshire Council has also rubber-stamped plans for three EV chargers in the car park of Peterhead’s Harbour Spring pub.

Applicants Osprey Charging Network say putting the equipment in place is “essential” to increasing the number of electric vehicle owners in the region.

This image shows the hotel, just off the A90 route. From Google Maps

And the hotel, just off the A90 roundabout into the Blue Toon from Aberdeen, makes it the perfect stopping point for visitors touring the area.

There’s also a McDonald’s and Starbucks nearby for drivers wishing to recharge their own batteries.

Why did addiction charity warn against Cheerz outdoor seating area?

This summer we revealed that Aberdeen’s LGBT+ institution, Cheerz, was applying to create seating outside the colourful pub.

Boss George Mackenzie wanted to put six large round tables, with benches, on the pavement along Exchange Street, along with parasols and branded barriers.

This design image shows the original plans for the nightspot. Supplied by Cheerz

Many fans welcomed the move in letters of support to the council, saying it would afford smokers a safer space rather than “spilling across the road”.

And Peter Johnston wrote that it would help “bring much-needed culture back to the city”.

However, Aberdeen’s Alcohol and Drugs Action charity – which is based across the road – raised a serious objection.

This image shows the close proximity between Cheerz and Alcohol and Drugs Action.

Chief executive Fraser Hoggan said it would “compromise” access to the anonymous drop-in centre just yards away.

Writing to the council, he explained: “We are open seven days per week and utilise evening opening hours – all year round.

“Our ability to host and operate our counselling facilities would be seriously degraded.”

Fraser Hoggan. Picture by Tom Harrison

He continued: “Our clients would have to come into our premises (via either entrance) in full view of any individuals seated on the street consuming alcohol.

“This is far from ideal both in terms of privacy and confidentiality, as well as being highly inappropriate for individuals themselves seeking respite, treatment, and support from alcohol issues.”

Another view showing the entrance to Alcohol and Drugs Action.

Mr Hoggan also argued this could get in the way of efforts to “improve access” for LGBT+ people in Aberdeen needing help with addiction.

He added that this is an area “under-represented”, and approving the plan would hamper efforts “given that many individuals from this community are patrons of the Cheerz Bar”.

Revellers enjoying  a night out in Cheerz.

NHS Grampian echoed the concerns.

The health board called the plan “especially reckless” at a time when “we know Scotland has among the worst alcohol and drug deaths rates in the world”.

Consultant in public health, John Mooney, said: “Presenting additional barriers to seeking help by means of compromised anonymity… could seriously compromise the work of Alcohol and Drugs Action.”

So why did Aberdeen City Council approve the proposal?

Council officers noted that the pavement is a “public place”, and said it was “not reasonable to expect complete privacy in such a setting”.

The approval will come as good news for several Cheerz fans who wrote to the council to support the plans.

A report added: “Users of the neighbouring Alcohol and Drugs Action service can of course expect confidentiality when engaging with that service, but that cannot reasonably be expected to extend to the public street outside.”

The only condition imposed was reducing the number of outdoor tables to allow space for people to use the pavement.

Plan to turn old Aberdeen church into flats rejected

Elsewhere in the city, the council has refused plans to turn part of an old church into new flats.

The annexe at former Melville Carden Place church was subject to the plans.

The proposal for long-vacant offices in part of the B-listed former Melville Carden Church was submitted by Carden Studios.

The church, with its towering spire, was built in 1882 but has been offices since 1990.

The plans to create one new flat on the ground floor and one on the first floor have now been trashed, however.

The council takes the city’s granite heritage seriously.

The crucial flaw in the scheme was the proposal to use “composite doors” (such as those made from PVC or fibreglass) in the revamp of the historic building.

Officers say this “does not seek to protect, preserve and enhance the historic importance of the building”.

Homes for site of hotel flattened after explosion

Here is how the Evening Express reported the horrific explosion in Auchenblae.

It was just days into 2009 when Auchenblae was rocked by a horrific explosion.

The blast at the Drumtochty Arms Hotel left three people injured, including one woman who suffered a collapsed lung.

Workmen at Drumtochty Arms Hotel in Auchenblae start to demolish it. Picture by Colin Rennie

And in the days afterwards, the building had to be torn down.

For more than a decade since then, the barren spot has remained an unwelcome reminder of the night the village shook.

This short video captures some of the carnage:

Now, almost a decade on from a kitchen fitting firm being fined £7,400 for causing the gas blast, plans have been formed to redevelop the site.

It comes after the land was put on the market for £280,000 – with planning permission in place already for a replacement hotel – but gained little interest.

What are the new plans?

But these new plans for the spot, fronting onto Market Street, are to build two new homes instead.

The site of the Drumtochty Arms Hotel in Auchenblae after it has been demolished. Photo by Kath Flannery

They have been lodged by estate manager Dougal Lindsay from the nearby Drumtochty Castle – which owned the hotel and is itself described as one of Scotland’s “most luxurious wedding venues”.

AB Roger and Young Architects say: “We are proposing that the unused site is given a new lease of life and is turned into two domestic properties.”

Drumtochty Castle. Supplied by Drumtochty Castle

Seeking permission for the change from hotel to homes, they stress: “Auchenblae has been without the Drumtochy Arms Hotel for around 13 years.

“The village has adapted with the modern times with several Airbnb properties now available for rent within the area, along with some lodges and cottages.

“The site has previously tried to be sold on as a hotel.

“Following communications, we can confirm the plot was listed for approximately three years and had very little interest.

This shows that the hotel business is not sought after at this time.”

This recent image from Google Maps shows the barren space left in the heart of the village.

The firm says the two-bedroom homes would be a huge boost to the “quaint village”.

Their report concludes: “The site has no purpose and is an eyesore within the Aberdeenshire village, time will only worsen this.”

A few years later, the P&J detailed the fine dished out to the firm responsible.

‘Luxury dog hotel’ could grow

Elsewhere in the Mearns, plans to expand an altogether different sort of hotel are taking shape.

The owners of the Laurney Lodge “luxury dog hotel”, at Fordoun, want to extend the business they started in 2015 due to “unprecedented demand” for their services.

This dog appears to be enjoying their wee holiday: 

Posted by Laurney Lodge on Monday, 25 July 2022

They are now seeking permission for 10 extra “suites” at the kennels.

The expansion would also mean one more full-time and two or three part-time members of staff are hired.

Cowie Architects say: “We believe that this proposal will benefit Laurencekirk and the surrounding district by offering a specialist service not readily available in this area, with the nearest similar facilities located in Huntly and Lumphanan.”

Oceaneering base to become offices

Dyce-based Raiths Farm Properties wants to turn the former Oceaneering base on Kirkton Avenue into new offices.

The former Oceaneering base in Dyce.

Under the scheme, new windows will be added to the front of the 31,352 sq ft building and a storage area on the first floor will be turned into more open-plan offices.

The firm does not appear to have any intentions, at this point, for the rest of the huge building.

The warehouse built in 1991 was recently put on the market.

Plans to save historic Aberdeen Tolbooth Museum

The Tolbooth is one of Aberdeen’s oldest buildings – and, legend has it, one of its “most haunted”…

The historic former jail, beside the Sheriff Court on Union Street, dates back to the 17th century.

This recent image shows the impressive Aberdeen Tolbooth Museum at the foot of Union Street.

In 1995 it became a museum – offering a grim insight into prison conditions at the time.

Popular with locals and tourists, it details how crime and punishment has evolved over the centuries.

But it has never reopened since the pandemic.

And, if an extensive package of repairs waiting to be endorsed are anything to go by, it could be some time until any spirits lingering in eternal torment are disturbed once again…

This image from 2007 shows actors recreating historic imprisonments at the building.

The council commissioned chartered architect – and conservation expert – David Chouman to study the A-listed building.

During visits this spring, he compiled an extensive report outlining the works required to secure its future.

This plaque details the history of the Aberdeen Tolbooth Museum.

What needs done?

Some parts have been designated Category A – meaning most in need of attention.

That includes the sandstone blocks exposed to the elements for so many years, mortar on the external walls, a cracked Gothic-arched window and corroding ironwork.

Lead sheeting on the “distinctive” spire is “buckled” and coming apart in some areas – with rain leaking in.

The spire is graded as being most in need of work.

Mr Chouman also noted peeling plaster, weeds growing and areas of dampness.

And he recommends specialist archaeologists be hired to carry out the repairs.

Councillor Marie Boulton (left) and exhibition curator Jenny Pape, at the 400th-anniversary exhibition in the old jailhouse. Picture by Kami Thomson

He concluded: “A prioritised programme of targeted works to the property’s external fabric is now required to return the historic building to good order

“It is recommended that the investigations, repairs, and refurbishment work should be undertaken to assist in safeguarding this historic property for present and future generations to access and enjoy.”

There was an exhibition of old papers relating to witches in the city at Aberdeen Tolbooth Museum. Pictured is a book that shows 23 witches were found guilty in 1597 alone… Picture by Chris Sumner

During a recent meeting of the council’s finance committee, members agreed to schedule the “major roof and parapet works” for the 2023/24 budget.

There is no price tag for the project yet.

Yvette Fielding visited Aberdeen Tolbooth Museum for an episode of Most Haunted:

You can see this week’s plans for yourself using these links:

Aberdeen Seafarers Centre

Huntly TSB to become whisky shop

Peterhead EV chargers 

Cheerz outdoor seating

Church flats plan rejected 

Drumtochty Arms Hotel

Mearns dog hotel expansion

Oceaneering plans

Aberdeen Tolbooth Museum rescue package