Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner. Facebook Messenger An icon of the facebook messenger app logo. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Facebook Messenger An icon of the Twitter app logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. WhatsApp Messenger An icon of the Whatsapp messenger app logo. Email An icon of an mail envelope. Copy link A decentered black square over a white square.

Tufted Duck holiday haven ‘might never be built’ as costs doubled while council pondered project

Conrad Ritchie would have paid £600,000 for the development two years ago - but now he could be expected to stump up £1.2 million.

Conrad Ritchie along with an artist impression of the proposed new Tufted Duck at St Combs
Conrad Ritchie along with an artist impression of the proposed new Tufted Duck at St Combs. Image: Roddie Reid/DC Thomson

A north-east businessman has admitted that his dream of building a tourist hotspot on the site of the former Tufted Duck hotel might never happen.

Conrad Ritchie unveiled his ambition to create the new holiday haven after the popular St Combs venue was demolished in 2021.

His plans to breathe new life into the small fishing village were given the stamp of approval by Aberdeenshire Council last week.

The old Tufted Duck hotel
The old Tufted Duck hotel. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson

This came a year after the proposals were officially lodged, and even longer since preliminary talks were launched.

And now this delay could mean the highly anticipated project never gets off the ground, with the businessman lamenting soaring costs since he came up with the idea…

Conrad tells us:

  • How much he has already ploughed into the Tufted Duck scheme
  • Why he now finds himself in a “Catch-22” situation when it comes to giving back to the village where he was raised – and “wants to do right by”
  • And he opens up on how he might have to admit defeat in the weeks ahead

Who is Conrad Ritchie, and what are his Tufted Duck plans?

Conrad, a north-east business stalwart, left Score Group three years ago after spending three years at the helm alongside his brother.

It came after it was sold for £120 million.

But now he hopes to build a new bistro and bar on the footprint of the hotel.

The site would also have space for 32 motorhomes.

An artist impression of the new tourist development on the Tufted Duck site in St Combs, with disabled parking spots and a grass area with picnic tables
An artist impression of the new tourist development on the Tufted Duck site in St Combs. Image: Baxter Design

However the estimated price to develop the site has doubled since the idea was born.

Two years ago, the project would have cost £600,000 to complete.

But now the businessman says he could be expected to pay up to £1.2m.

Why has the project cost shot up in price?

Conrad blames Aberdeenshire Council’s lengthy planning process, saying it has taken “two very painful long years” to get permission for the development.

He added: “A lot of people think this is just going to happen but it won’t unless there is a change in the cost of materials.

“If they come back down to the normal level and stabilise then the project likely will happen.

“But at the moment the cost just makes it unviable.”

Why did the Tufted Duck in St Combs close?

The four-star Tufted Duck hotel was built in 1973, and was taken over by the Ritchie family in 2008.

The Ritchies heavily invested in the venue over the years and it became a popular destination for celebrations such as birthday parties and weddings.

Conrad and his wife Lesley Anne sitting with a stone wall and the sea behind them
Conrad with his wife Lesley Anne. Image: Conrad Ritchie

But Conrad and wife Lesley Anne decided to close the doors to guests for the final time at the beginning of the pandemic.

Conrad explained: “For lots of reasons it just wasn’t working.

“Hospitality was really struggling so we went ahead and applied for the demolition warrant and we knocked it down.

“To be honest, once you were inside the old Tufted Duck it was fantastic, but from the outside it was an early 1970s ugly box and it just didn’t sit right.”

How Tufted Duck used to look
Conrad admits the old Tufted Duck wasn’t much to look at. Image: DC Thomson

Couple ‘delighted’ to have permission but now facing Catch-22

Conrad and Lesley Anne first put in plans for the spot in early 2021, but they were refused in February 2022.

The couple went back to the drawing board and a year later, submitted the updated plan which was approved last week.

But while they awaited a decision, they found the cost of construction materials kept increasing.

A site plan/map
A site plan of the St Combs development. Image: Baxter Design

“The reality is, had it been approved 18 months ago then today it would have been built, in operation and employing local people,” Conrad explained.

“I’m in a Catch-22 situation, absolutely delighted we’ve got planning permission but it’s not plain sailing.

“There are quite a lot of financial obstacles that we need to overcome if this is going to happen.

“But I keep going back to the fact, had it not taken so long to move through the planning process then we might not be in such a sticky situation.”

What does the local authority have to say about it?

But Aberdeenshire Council argued that the choice was either for it to take a long time – or be rejected again.

A spokesman explained: “The time taken was necessary to ensure planning approval.

“A quicker decision could have been taken in the absence of the necessary information and revisions asked for.

“But that ultimately would not have resulted in a recommendation of approval.”

The Tufted Duck Hotel in St Combs
The former Tufted Duck Hotel was popular with customers across the region. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson

The spokesman also noted that the application was submitted and determined within a year.

‘It’s not looking positive’

Conrad was was born and brought up in St Combs, and says he has a personal attachment to the village.

Conrad Ritchie
North-east businessman Conrad Ritchie. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson

“I want to do the right thing by the area and the people,” he added.

“When the building was demolished, the intention was always to come back with something that was going to work.

“I think it will work, it all comes down to timing.”

Conrad has already spent more than £200,000 knocking down the former hotel and paying planning and architect fees.

“My heart is still in it but it has to be financially viable and at this moment in time with the way the world is, it’s not looking positive,” he said.

Will the new bar keep the Tufted Duck moniker?

Should the development progress, Conrad aims to name the new restaurant after its predecessor.

The large stone sign for Tufted Duck at the end of the driveway of the former St Combs hotel
The sign that was located at the end of the driveway to the former Tufted Duck Hotel. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson

He explained: “It’s part of local history and had been there since 1973.

“I’m not saying that I’m in love with the name, but we wouldn’t change it.”

Conrad will now look at the business plan for the project over the next couple of weeks before planning the next steps.

“We’ll have to make a decision. Do we go ahead or do we stall and at this stage, I don’t know.”