Jan 23 2009 by Ian Russell, Kilmarnock Standard
THE man behind the £60 million golf, hotel and leisure complex at Rowallan Castle has lost his fight to use the ‘old’ castle on the estate outside Kilmaurs for residential accommodation.
But castle owner Niall Campbell this week insisted that the Colin Montgomerie-designed golf course is scheduled to open this Spring.
He said however that he won’t risk the quality of the project by opening too early and blamed bad weather for previous projected opening dates having come and gone.
“The course is growing in well despite us suffering two of the wettest years in recent times,” said Mr Campbell. “If the next few months are more benign we will be playing this superb test of golf in late Spring.”
He said that after the amount of money and effort spent so far he wasn’t ‘going to rush things’ to bring it into play before it is in anything but perfect condition.
Mr Campbell said he was ‘naturally disappointed’ with the inquiry decision, but it didn’t affect the overall project. .
He added: “It’s a shame that there is no right to appeal this decision, but we are not giving up on this and intend immediately resubmitting a new scheduled monument consent application.
“Although the ‘old’ castle is not crucial to the overall project, I see it as the jewel in the crown of the estate. I’m disappointed that ministers didn’t see that our plans would take it’s upkeep out of the public purse, allow it to be seen by many more people than currently happens under Historic Scotland’s guardianship, and, crucially, would allow the building to earn its keep.”
Mr Campbell’s ambitious project already incorporates the 19th century ‘new’ castle which, designed under the supervision of international hotelier Gordon Campbell Gray, and with an extension, will be transformed into a 70-room five-star hotel.
But work on the scheme hasn’t always run smoothly.
Five months ago the superintendent at the Rowallan course Robert Johnston told Greenkeeper International magazine that although the course was taking shape there was still plenty to do.
And he admitted the drainage system wasn’t up to scratch.
“... it’s not that we don’t have drainage; it’s just that we don’t have sufficient drainage to make this a top-class golf resort at the moment,” he said in September last year.
In September, 2005, when Colin Montgomerie came to Rowallan to launch the new club, Niall Campbell forecast it could be possible to play a championship event at Rowallan ‘within two years’. In 2006 the Standard was told the new completion date was late 2007, and then it was moved back to Spring, 2008. Last year early 2009 was forecast.
The public inquiry was held over several days at the Fenwick Hotel in April last year.
Historic Scotland claimed that the plans to make the ‘old’ Rowallan Castle part of the golf resort were not in the best interest of the structure.
The government agency has guardianship of the building, which dates back to the 13th century, and wants to keep it in its current state.
Niall Campbell however said he wanted to return it to residential use, with guardianship passing to him. He also said he would open the scheduled ancient monument to the public on certain days every year.
Mr Campbell bought the estate from Lord Rowallan’s trustees 20 years ago, and Lord Rowallan was one of those to address the inquiry, calling for goodwill on all sides.
This week Lord Rowallan told the Standard: “I am delighted with this decision. I am pleased that the reporters and ministers have seen sense. Now I hope that Mr Campbell and Historic Scotland can come to an arrangement for the old castle to be opened to members of the public in the future.”
Founder members of the new club – the membership ceiling has been set at 600 – will pay a joining fee of £30,000. Individual members will pay an interest free debenture of £15,000 plus an annual fee, £1500 in the first year.
Said Niall Campbell: “We are not at 600 members, but are not unhappy with the membership figures.”