Multi-million-pound plans for a five-star hotel and country club on the outskirts of an Aberdeen park have been backed by council planning bosses.
It has emerged that officials have granted planning permission in principle to the £40 million project, by developers Carlton Rock, despite it being on green belt land near Hazlehead park.
The firm – headed by north-east tycoon Alan Massie – will now develop detailed proposals for the site and has pledged to consult with the local community.
Proposals for the massive scheme first emerged in 2015 and feature a 200 bed hotel, spa, swimming pool, function and conference facilities, restaurants and a horse riding centre.
In May that year, councillors backed the plans by 28 votes to seven amidst significant concern about the scale of the project from residents.
The Scottish Government was urged to intervene and “call in” the application but decided against doing so.
Plans then stalled in 2016 as Carlton Rock and the council failed to reach agreement over the level of developer contributions required.
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Now, however, the Press and Journal has been told they have signed a new legal document that commits the firm to investing hundreds of thousands into community facilities.
A letter from the city council to Carlton Rock director Alan Massie reads: “The proposal for the hotel does not comply with Green Belt policy NE2 in the adopted Aberdeen local development plan… however, it complements recreational uses that are appropriate within the green belt and does respond to an acknowledged need identified in the Tourism Strategy for Scotland and the Aberdeen Tourism Strategy.”
Mr Massie said: “The market has been very hard going but businesses are still looking to invest and I think there is some confidence returning.
“We look forward to working with the public and local community when we present our detailed plans.”
Hazlehead, Queens Cross and Countesswells independent councillor Jennifer Stewart is positive about the Carlton Rock plans.
She said: “What we have to do is welcome everything like this that comes to the table for Aberdeen.
“We are still in difficult times economically and, if the development is sympathetic and in keeping with the wishes of local residents, we must look at it seriously.”
Fellow ward councillor Martin Greig, a Liberal Democrat, is less sure of the project’s merits.
He said: “This is a proposal that goes against agreed council policy.
“The key reason for opposing the application was the damage and destruction to the treasured area of Hazlehead Park.
“I would be surprised if visitors to the park welcome the prospect of the congestion that lies ahead.”
Fully detailed plans are to be placed before Aberdeen City Council and the community in the months to come.
‘The opening of P&J Live will increase demand for hotel rooms’
The country club plans provide further evidence that confidence in the Aberdeen hospitality industry is recovering.
Caught up in the oil price slump of 2014, occupancy rates fell sharply as the energy industry slashed spending, cancelled projects and delayed others to keep afloat financially.
In the year following the dramatic drop, the city’s hotels experienced falls of almost 50% in their revenue per room.
The effects lingered for many years. In 2017, accountancy and business firm BDO found that one-third of Aberdeen hotel rooms were being left un-used.
In addition, those that were filled were bringing in an average of just £41 per day, down from £47 the previous year.
But at the same time a number of new developments were being touted, with developers keen to bring more hotel rooms to the city centre, Dyce and Bucksburn.
Earlier this year professional services company PwC said there was “no doubt” stability was returning to Aberdeen.
It pointed to the recent opening of the Sandman Signature Hotel as one clear sign of growing confidence.
PwC also said proposals to transform the former Woolmanhill Hospital into a £10 million development, on a par with Edinburgh’s famous Scotsman Hotel, showed a “willingness among investors” to start investing again.
The firm’s senior office partner in Aberdeen, Kevin Reynard, said: “The Aberdeen harbour expansion is also likely to have a positive impact on the city, with cruise ships set to arrive from 2020.
“The opening of P&J Live in the summer will increase demand for hotel rooms.”