2004 News Article

270 acres of ancestral land that once belonged to the Stirlings of Keir may be bought out.Park of Keir

ONE of Scotlandís most prosperous Lowland commuter towns is to follow the example of Highland crofters and mount a community land buy-out with public funds. The residents of Dunblane, in Perthshire, are considering whether to buy 270 acres of threatened green-belt land using powers under Scotlandís extended land-reform legislation, introduced this week.

Developers want to build a 150-bedroom hotel and 18-hole golf course and club house on the land. But a campaign is to be launched next week to preserve the 18th-century Park of Keir as a "green lung" for the community. The park, laid out by the celebrated Scots landscape architect Thomas White, a pupil of Lancelot "Capability" Brown, separates the ancient cathedral town of Dunblane from neighbouring Bridge of Allan.

The campaign has already attracted backing from local MSPs, including Sylvia Jackson and George Reid, Holyroodís presiding officer.

Scotlandís controversial land reform legislation was originally introduced to allow small Highland communities and crofters the right to buy out landlords. But it has now been extended to communities throughout Scotland with populations of up to 10,000 who, as of this week, have the "right to buy" once land comes on the market. Crofting communities have an automatic right to buy whether or not land is for sale.

Suggestions for sustainable community land-use range from a plant and tree nursery, fishing on the Water of Allan and preservation of park land for country recreations, including pony trekking . The land is currently zoned for agriculture.

But he said: "It is clear the Scottish Executive now wants to see communities take the initiative and have a greater control over their future and surroundings. We want to preserve the land for the communal benefit of both Dunblane and Bridge of Allan, and protect it once and for all. It was fortuitous that we discovered the incoming legislation, which allowed us to put forward a positive alternative to the golf course."

Dunblane is largely a commuter town for Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stirling and Perth. But in spite of its prosperous image, it would be eligible for community buy-out funding under the extended land-reform legislation. The new guidelines go some way to dispelling accusations that land reform was aimed only at Highland lairds and designed to confiscate tracts of land with public money in revenge for the 18th-century Highland clearances.

Plans for the golf complex, backed by Stirling Council, went to public inquiry earlier this year. A decision is expected in November. Sue Stirling Aird, a member of RAGE who gave evidence at the inquiry, said: "The inquiry reporter quizzed me very closely on proposals for a community buy-out."

Many have argued that the hotel and golf course application was a "Trojan horse" for new housing, and that an application for houses was likely to follow if the golf complex was approved. The developer denied the suggestion. A similar application was turned down 13 years ago.

Objectors said the park should be preserved as a green lung for the community and to prevent Dunblane becoming part of an urban sprawl into greater Stirling. Now cut off from Keir House by the M9 motorway, it includes an Iron Age fort and bluebell woods.