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‘I’ve had enough now’: Builder pulls out of Bow Fiddle Rock café plans after endless planning rows

Sandy Laing at Bow Fiddle Rock. Photo: Jason Hedges/DCT Media
Sandy Laing at Bow Fiddle Rock. Photo: Jason Hedges/DCT Media

A Moray builder has given up on his dream to open a café overlooking the Bow Fiddle Rock – blaming endless red tape.

Sandy Laing, from Portknockie, has devoted two and a half years and spent £37,000 towards leaving a legacy from himself in the village he has lived his whole life.

However, the 72-year-old has now shelved the £200,000 plans with intentions to put the plot up for sale after endless planning battles have “knocked the enthusiasm” from the vision.

What was the Bow Fiddle Rock café plan?

Mr Laing dreamed up the possibility of a café overlooking the world famous Bow Fiddle Rock over a kitchen table chat with friend Ian Barber in early 2019.

In his seven decades living in Portknockie the retired businessman has seen countless tourists and locals marvel at the striking sea stack.

The lifelong local resident had always been struck by the lack of facilities for visitors at the beauty spot with hopes to also create jobs for local youngsters.

Bow Fiddle Rock is a popular destination for visitors and locals. Photo: DCT Media

However, after endless planning battles he has now called time on the development.

Mr Laing, who is now struggling with rheumatoid arthritis, said: “I’ve just had enough of it now, especially waiting for Moray Council.

“People ask me all the time what’s happening with it, they ask me all the time why it’s not ready, and I have to go through the whole story – I’m sick to death of telling the story now.

“People want to know when it’ll be open, people want jobs, people want to tell folk when to visit. I get asked about it all the time.

“I applied for a building warrant in April and was told it would take three weeks. I’m still waiting, it’s ridiculous.

“Everything is going up in price too, costs have gone up 40% since I started this – I’m sick and fed up with it all.”

Why have the café plans been delayed?

The café plans for Bow Fiddle Rock were first submitted to Moray Council in January 2020.

Planners threw out the proposals in July 2020 due to it being deemed “incompatible” with established businesses on the site.

Mr Laing then won an appeal in November after councillors argued the café would encourage economic development while believing planners were “asking the impossible” to comply with rules.

Permissions from Sepa were delayed as the environment agency battled a cyber-attack that affected its computers.

The Portknockie site for the cafe is currently abandoned. Photo: Jason Hedges/DCT Media

Meanwhile, Mr Laing began clearing the site with a large shed dismantled amid hopes construction on foundations could start.

But now building warrants permissions have required to be amended with revised plans submitted in June to comply with regulations.

Moray Council says a decision about the latest submissions is not expected until September to allow consultations to take place.

Mr Laing said: “It’s been a real rigmarole behind the scenes, every time we get through a wall there’s another one there.”

Friend Mr Barber said: “Everybody asks Sandy when it will be open, he’s getting pretty sick of it.

“He’s a person who is wanting to leave a legacy in the village, it’s ridiculous it’s taken this long.”

What does Moray Council say?

Moray Council says the development has proved more complex due to it being approved outside of existing policies for the site.

However, it has stressed its planning department remains one of the top three in Scotland with approval for developments given within an average of 6.9 weeks – only a slight increase from the 6.5-week average before Covid.

An artist impression of the proposed cafe.

A spokeswoman said: “Although Covid may have contributed an element of delay the main cause would have been associated with the objections and trying to resolve the issues through design.

“The building warrant was received on April 19, 2021 with the first technical response issued on May, 13.

“Revised plans were received on June 29 and these will be subject to further verification by the building standards team.

“The plans require to demonstrate compliance with the building regulations before they can be approved.”

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