Page last updated at 11:23 GMT, Wednesday, 18 February 2009

'Serious concerns' for resort bid

Macdonald resort, Aviemore. Picture by Macdonald Hotels
The plans include extensions to the hotel complex

The banking crisis and the planning process may have doomed the expansion of the Aviemore Highland Resort (AHR), one of its backers has warned.

Cairngorms National Park Authority's (CNPA) planning committee will consider the proposals on Friday. Park officials have recommended approval.

But Gordon Fraser, finance director of Macdonald Hotels, said consent came with a "raft" of conditions.

He said it could be too late to save the project, initiated 12 years ago.

We recognise the importance of Aviemore Highland Resort and are keen to ensure it is a high quality development which brings jobs and community benefits to Aviemore and the Cairngorms National Park
CNPA spokeswoman

The planning application for housing, retail units and extensions to the existing Macdonald Hotels complex in Aviemore is backed by a consortium comprising the hotel chain, Bank of Scotland and construction group Tulloch.

However, following the Bank of Scotland's merger with the Lloyds Banking Group a final decision on the financial giant's future involvement lies with a new set of people.

Consideration of the planning application for the second phase of development at the resort was deferred by the CNPA's planning committee in December.

The item was removed from the agenda on the eve of the meeting after a neighbouring landowner said he had not been served the appropriate legal notice by the applicant.

Even though CNPA officials have recommended giving the bid the go-ahead, Mr Fraser said the planning conditions attached presented fresh problems.

He said: "The report prepared for the planning committee of the board by the head of planning of the CNPA and already published, presents a number of new challenges and hurdles, lumbered as it is with a raft of conditions and issues which now raise serious concerns within AHR about the future viability of this major project."

Peregrine falcon
More than 30 planning conditions are attached to the recommendation to grant the application approval
These include time scales for when work should start on the project, but also seek a commitment to provide plans on how transport and travel will be managed
AHR has been asked to take steps to protect bats, red squirrels and peregrine falcons

The finance director added: "The endemic planning drag has cost AHR around 15m in unnecessary interest costs over the last 12 years as well as the opportunity to offset some of the debt burden within AHR with the sale of housing and commercial developments.

"This opportunity has now been lost and in any event pales into insignificance when compared with the financial challenges facing the business community.

"It should come as no surprise that the major issue now facing AHR is the future financing of the Resort. Final decisions lie in the hands of the Bank of Scotland's new owners Lloyds Banking Group who, themselves, now face serious challenges following their recent merger."

Donald Macdonald, chairman of Macdonald Hotels and AHR, claimed the problems facing the second phase of expansion threatened the wider business.

He said: "If closure is forced upon this business, not only will it be a national disgrace, it will also be a catastrophe for the community, including the Highlands, affecting future generations.

"It has to be recorded as a lost opportunity which must never be allowed to be repeated".

The CNPA said it has dealt with applications relating to the AHR site professionally and in accordance with due process while always mindful of economic pressures.

A spokeswoman said: "We recognise the importance of Aviemore Highland Resort and are keen to ensure it is a high quality development which brings jobs and community benefits to Aviemore and the Cairngorms National Park.

"The report going before Friday's planning committee is extremely thorough, as would be expected for determination of an application of this complexity and scale.

"As highlighted in the report itself, the application as called in was not accompanied by the full range of information required and the number of conditions reflects this."

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