Council asked to look into planning complaint

A photo provided by residents of the 'chalet' at Loch Awe

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Villagers have reported alleged  ‘unauthorised development’ at a secluded farm on the banks of Loch Awe.

Residents contacted planners at Argyll and Bute Council to say they were ‘shocked and dismayed’ after a ‘chalet’ went up at remote Rockhill Farm, found half-a-mile off the B840 at Ardbrecknish.

Set in 130 acres on the southern shores of Loch Awe, the farmhouse with an annexe, two cottages, farm outbuildings, two islands and a crannog on the loch, was sold earlier this year, having been on the market with Dawsons Estate Agents, Oban. It was described as needing ‘considerable investment’ but offering ‘exceptional potential’.

New owner Matthew Shields, a self-made Glasgow-based businessman who bought it and has a business partner, has now moved to reassure the community.

Mr Shields said he was deeply passionate about the Loch Awe area having visited many times and fully planned to respect the tranquility of the area.

He said earlier this year he had reached out to the Ardbrecknish community to introduce himself and keep them and the community council informed until the coronavirus restrictions made visits impossible.

Having appointed a project manager and a planning consultant, he said the new building – which he described as a high-quality portable unit – is to provide a temporary base as the existing properties at the site are uninhabitable.

Mr Shields insisted it was not – as residents had reported to the council – the first of 10 ‘chalets with hot tubs’ – nor did he have such a development in mind for the site.

He said he expected some kind of ‘holiday let’ accommodation and potentially a wedding venue, but stressed that the plan remained in development at this stage and could take two years. Proposals would be duly lodged with Argyll and Bute Council and he emphatically ruled out a housing scheme.

Mr Shields said he was passionate about investing in the area and helping to provide rural opportunities.

Residents had reported their concerns to Argyll and Bute Council and called on planners to issue a ‘stop notice’.

The council confirmed no planning permission was in place but had stopped short of serving a stop notice.

A council spokesperson said: ‘The complaint has been logged and we are looking into it in accordance with the council’s published Monitoring and Enforcement Charter.’

The charter states that planning permission is required for most development in Scotland, with the exception of some minor works.

Its preference is to ‘resolve a problem rather than to punish a mistake,’ the charter adds.

Previously, Rockhill Farm had a long-standing history as a local guest house with self-catering accommodation. Historically it had been used for livestock rearing and equestrian activities, according to Dawsons.

It was marketed for sale with ‘three building plots with views of Loch Awe’ which received ‘detailed planning consent in 2008, although this had now lapsed’.