Fetternear so near yet so very far

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David Fyffe, owner of Fetternear Estate, has always had big plans for the lands surrounding the Bishops’ Palace. He is confident these will come to fruition in the long term, though not without a measure of red tape and frustration.

Having gained planning permission for much of his three-phase improvement plan, which includes enabling development of 77 houses to provide the capital, there is still one sticking point. David Fyffe explained: “When the LDP process took place over the last two to three years, the Garioch Area Committee wanted to support Fetternear’s proposals (in particular the renovation and the stabilisation of the listed buildings) and therefore put an allocation of 77 houses into the Local Development Plan (LPD), but they allocated them all on to one site. This was never our intention as we feel very strongly that the estate doesn’t lend itself to a large, high density housing estate.

Following a recent meeting with the Director of Planning Development and the planning team, which Mr Fyffe said was “a first class meeting”, he felt very encouraged after clarification of many of the outstanding issues.

Mr Fyffe commented: “The planning team support the listed buildings, economic development and the community facility projects. The key issue is when does the new policy in the LDP become ‘material’ because this enablement development will ultimately fund the projects.

“At the moment they say we are premature in our application and it was turned down two years ago for that reason, despite the fact that we’ve been working on it for nearly five years. The reality is that it is the process of the LDP, which is taking a long time to complete, with all the consultation processes involved, that is holding up the development of the estate.

With the LDP’s submission to the Scottish Government, and now in the hands of the Government Reporter, it is now very close to completion.

Continuing, Mr Fyffe said: “We’re very hopeful now that our proposals will be seen in the light of the new LDP being material. I think it may be difficult for people to understand that running and managing an estate is a very long-term process. Our duty is, as we see it, to leave the place - the buildings, and the land in a fit and sustainable state for the next generation.”

After seeking help from a farm diversification specialist in 1989, long-term plans took the shape of a three-phase development. Phase one was the renovation and diversification of the old dairy steadings into a rural business centre, which took nine years to complete due to being deemed “too risky” by the banks. Some of the funding for phase one came from the building of three houses on the road to another future development, that of the old stable block.

This enablement also secured sufficient funds to widen the approach road leading up to the old stable block and install amenities in advance of that stage of development.

Phase two was the stabilisation of Fetternear Mansion together with a small visitor centre for use by the community and the general public.

Anxious to preserve this historic building, Mr Fyffe said: “It is a fascinating and major part of our local Scottish history. We applied in the early 90s for Heritage Lottery Funding (HLF). They turned us down because the visitor numbers in the North-east didn’t justify the amount of capital - had it been Edinburgh or Glasgow, they would have supported our application.

“We were asked to find a way of part-funding the stabilisation ourselves, hence the enablling development. The housing at Fetternear is purely a means to an end and it should never be confused with a typical housing development which is for profit.

The master plan for the estate will deliver major benefits for the area. In addition to the listed building works, including 40-plus long-term, quality jobs, a new pediestrian/cycle bridge acrosss the River Don, an all-weather sports facility, allotments and a much improved public access. “The intention is”, Mr Fyffe said, “that pupils from the Kemnay Academy will be involved in the bridge design.

“We want them to feel it’s their bridge. At the moment the river is seen as a boundary but the new pedestrian cycle bridge will bring the river into Kemnay. It createss a circular walk from Bremnar Way, via the road bridge and the new cycle bridge.”

Fetternear Trust was set up in 1999 as a vehicle to deliver the stabilisation of the mansion. The Trust has plans for fundraising, which can developed once planning permission is granted.

Mr Fyffe concluded: “Our frustration at the amount fo time it’s taken is tempered by the fact that we want to get the best out of the planning system that we can and also that our plans are very long-term, which is what sustainability is all about.

To find out more about the rich history of the Bishops’ Palace and the subsequent occupation of Fetternear Mansion by the Leslies, visit www.thebishopspalace.co.uk.