Imagine a young family – two parents, two young children, the youngest weeks old, sinking everything in a hospitality industry business in Argyll and arriving in late December, at Christmas, to get to grips with what has been a serially failing business.
They are barely there before the pits of the year, January, and are facing a steep personal and commercial challenge to make the business work.
Something like a week or so after they get there, they are hit with a planning application to develop a site between their business property and the loch on which it sits – blocking the view which has always been the businesses attraction, latterly its sole attraction – and upon which the chance of making a success of it absolutely rests.
This is an application the owner of the land had promised the local community she would not make if it supported her application for a house on the edge of the car park of the commercial property now newly owned by the young family in question.
One week before their arrival she nevertheless lodges a planning application for a development on the piece of ground she had promised not to touch.
The family is devastated, seeing financial crisis loom before they have even settled and being propelled into battle mode before they know where they are.
The local community is incensed at the conduct of the owner of the land and lodge objections in some number to the proposal. The new business owners quickly get geared up to fight and together they and the community see off the planning application.
This began in December 2006. The land lies between Loch Craignish and the Galley of Lorne Inn in Ardfern, to which the young couple, Andrew and Sarah Stanton, have committed their financial and personal futures.
The business owners get down to serious business development. They invest in and work on improvements to the property and to the business. They markedly upgrade both the standard of accommodation available at the Galley – a centuries-old inn dating back at least to the 1680s – and the standard of the food it offers in its restaurant.
They support the Arfern Yacht Marina, understanding the symbiotic relations between the two businesses. The marina needs a good local eaterie and bar for its largely high-end yacht owners. The Galley of Lorne Inn needs to increase the spectrum and number of its users.
They have understood that, while many residents see the Galley as their local pub and while it serves this purpose, it cannot possibly survive today as a pub business alone.
They say: ‘With 50 pubs closing each week in the UK at current rates, no establishment can survive under the current economic climate on pub trade alone.
‘Figures released by Begbies Traynor showed a 95% rise in ‘critical’ financial problems in the pub sector since the beginning of the year, making the sector the hardest hit of any type of business in the first quarter of 2012.
‘The fact that pubs are on their uppers is not simply a matter for economic concern, as these once thriving hubs of community and regional identity are part of the fabric of British society, and once lost can never be replaced.’
During the years the Stantons have been at the Galley, they have achieved the following increase in its business success:
- Room occupancy Rates have increased by 120% compared to 2007.
- In August 2010 and 2011 they achieved in excess of 99% occupancy rate. The previous owner was unable to achieve more than 50% occupancy in the height of summer.
- They have had as many hotel residents between January and April 2012 as they had in the whole of 2008.
- This year it is forecast that there will be 3,500 first time or returning hotel guests.
- In the first four months of this year, 2013, they increased food revenue by 50% over the same period in any previous year during their tenure.
The Stantons point out: ‘The only reason The Galley of Lorne Inn has survived during our tenure is due to the successful strides we have driven in the accommodation, restaurant and wedding markets.
‘It is these elements that allow the pub to survive, not the other way around.
‘In order to achieve the standards that tourists and residents expect these days, we have invested approximately £250,000 in repairs, maintenance and upgrading.
‘That is, on average, over £40,000 per annum.
‘During all this time, we have taken nothing from the business. We are putting everything back into it.’
The terrorism of serial planning applications
The issue today is that the battle the Stantons fought and with the support of the Ardfern community, managed to win, was not the end of the matter.
Andrew Stanton says: ‘Since we became proprietors of The Galley of Lorne Inn in December 2006, we now face the third planning application on this site.
- ‘The first [discussed above] was refused after a public hearing.
- ‘The second was withdrawn…
- ‘… only to be replaced by the current application.’
He had hoped that the fate of the first application would have set a precedent, giving pause to potential purchasers of the land with development in mind.
The current application, a revision of one withdrawn a little earlier, is for two domestic properties set in the land between the Galley and the loch, one on each side of it, served by a road running right on and around their southern boundary line, accessing both properties and with a shared turning area for vehicles between them.
The red lined area in the plan above is the land within which the proposed development would take place. If you follow the top line of that area, that is the line of the access road to the two planned properties. You can see the tight proximity to areas of the Galley of Lorne Inn.
The plan below shows the position of the access road – which uses a retained right of way to cut across the Galley’s car park to hug the fence line close to the private quarters of the premises.
By our own measurement, there is a maximum of 9 feet between this road and the bedroom wall of the Stanton’s private quarters at the Inn. And this spatial tightness is in a remote rural location where the tenets of the town are naturally alien.
The access road will come in diagonally from the Galley car park, running virtually on and to the left of the shadow line in the above photograph, going through the first gate, 9 feet from the Stanton’s bedroom on the right, on down through the second gate just visible in the shot, in line with the shadow and then curving right to follow the boundary line.
Were this planning application to go through [and there is a meeting of the Planning Committee this Wednesday, 21st August, at which it will be considered], the Stanton’s are facing the prospect of heavy construction traffic coming past, 9 feet from their bedroom wall, first thing in the morning – when their lifestyle in the hospitality industry inevitably dictates late nights and sleeping into the morning.
Then there is the impact of that construction traffic on the business – who is going to want to have their wedding and wedding breakfast guests trek down a long single track road to looking at diggers, spoil soil, scaffolding, and building materials and listening to construction noises and lorry deliveries?
And once the two houses and the road are built, each will block key views for key facilities, the Inn offers from its three premier accommodation suites, to its special restaurant tables, to its entire restaurant – a spectacularly glorious room which also serves as its wedding breakfast room.
The Galley is the only establishment in Mid-Argyll capable of seating 120 guests internally and without a marquee.
The Stantons have three wedding reservations for 2014 – and other substantial enquiries. Wedding bookings now have verbal agreements covering the right to cancel with a full refund if the development goes ahead. The enquiries will go no further.
The opportunity for tranquil nights out at the Galley, with a good meal eaten in very special circumstances will be gone. Light and views will both be affected – by the obstructions presented by the two houses and by screening trees planted to shield them.
In the case of the best table for two in the restaurant, trees, the new road and one house are a few metres away from the window beside the table, blocking the lateral view across the narrows to an island and with the second house obstructing the view down the loch. The corner table above will have the access road to the proposed houses running right on the fence line visible in the photograph above, screening trees and the blockage of the proposed east side house between it and the cottage in the background.
The Galley’s two best accommodation suites, Arran and Skye will have their views cut by at least half – as will the view in the top photograph above, losing the right hand half of it, cutting the central hill in the distance in half. This will lose completely the openness to the loch and its shoresides that is currently so fundamentally good for the soul. That is what the Stantons have been able to ‘sell’ in building the business at the Galley as they have done.
In the case of the next most popular suite, the Uist, it will see little of the water at all, or of the hillside of the island across the water from the Inn.
The role of a view in specific businesses
While with a domestic property the planning mantra obtains: ‘No one is entitled to a view’, the situation is different where a business is concerned.
There can be no question that the Galley of Lorne Inn’s unique selling point is the wonderful views it offers to its key facilities, the restaurant and wedding function room, with its outdoor sun deck; its best accommodation suites; and its enticing beer garden below. These views have been the Galley’s defining feature for over 330 years. With the west side proposed property in place, to the left of the existing visible property, the beer garden will have no view to speak of.
In fact the views are the Galley’s only serious selling point for other than modest local business. It is in a remote place at the edge of the well-to-do village of Ardfern, down a long single-track road and with as far to go again to get to the point at the end of the Craignish peninsula.
It’s well worth the effort to get there when it offers the other worldliness of its timeless views. When those views are blocked by more building in its only remaining open sector, this will be a special place for no one’s wedding and no one’s long weekend treat.
There are a host of other worrying practical consequences of planning consent – like the road along its perimeter built to serve the two proposed houses having foundations inevitably deeper than the 18 inches that will see it break up the Galley’s sewage pipes to a reed bed below the houses, above the shore. The photograph above shows the access covers to the Galley’s sewage system. The access road to the proposed new properties runs right on the fence line at right angles to this key services pipe which is not far below the surface.
If this development were to go ahead the Stantons would simply not have a business future here.
It is utterly unrealistic to imagine that, with the specific services it has built up for its target markets, it could overcome the loss of the key amenities provided by the views, the openness, the tranquillity to its sweep over the loch.
Their investment and their future here would equally be obliterated – as would the provision the Galley makes for Ardfern and in support of its other businesses.
All that the Stantons could do would be to put the Galley and its own land on the market for development and clear out.
The irony here would be that if they did this, the first objectors would be the owners of the two properties whose erection would have driven the Stantons to this, the only survival option open to them.
They are terribly stressed at the moment, with the deadline of Wednesday’s planning meeting coming up fast. They know their case is a powerful one but they have no idea who the owner of the land is and so cannot gauge what weight of influence he or she may have. The proposed development is being handled through a legal third party acting for an anonymous owner.
They came here in 2006 and found themselves immediately propelled into a nightmare, facing imminent financial ruin with a serially failed business they had bought to try to regenerate but would have had to sell at a loss before they had been able to improve it.
Now, having stuck it out, seeing the business develop through constant hard work, investment and innovation – like the current and successful month long Galley Gig Music Festival run over four weekends – they are again facing the prospect of failure – for the same reason: a hostile planning application.
They are looking at having to leave before they have experienced any personal reward from a business they continue to put everything they earn into making stronger.
No business can successfully endure the debilitating erosion of uncertainty at this level – or the need constantly to divert energies that should be building the business into fighting desperately to protect its very survival. This destructive impact is multiplied when a business is in remote Argyll, with the third most dispersed population in Scotland, in numerical decline and ageing.
Successful and investing businesses are crucial to this part of the world. It may be lovely to look at but sustainable economic development is the killer issue.
The developer will rightly be certain that there will be immediate buyers for the two properties under construction. Their virgin location with views virtually untouched by time and their attractive design underpin this.
The inevitable consequent loss of a major local business and the only one in the peninsula to offer such facilities, is of no concern to the developer with profit in mind. Developing is a gamble with voluntarily accepted commercial risk. Unless there is outline planning permission on a property, the risk in purchase is very real. Planners have no obligation to shield anyone from that risk. But that is no consolation to the desperately anxious Stantons.
For the moment, all the family can do is continue to worry and stress out about their future until Wednesday’s planning committee meeting is over.
At that stage they will know what is in front of them, one way or the other.
We would emphasise that this situation is no one’s ‘fault’. But it produces a form of continual torment which is unhealthy and which undermines the spirit and will it takes to make a business succeed.
Is there a case for a substantial moratorium on planning applications for locations where an earlier application has been rejected and which negatively impact on key local businesses?