Residents say Dunmore Pineapple visitor centre is “unwanted” and “unjustifiable”

Airth resident George Lawrie says the visitor centre will be nothing more than a cafe and farm shop.
Airth resident George Lawrie says the visitor centre will be nothing more than a cafe and farm shop.

George Russell Construction has applied for permission from Falkirk Council to build the visitor centre at the historic attraction. The proposed centre would be cross-funded by the construction of 82 new houses, stretching for two kilometres on what is currently part of Airth Mains Farm – something many local residents say is “unjustifiable and unwanted”.

The company says the centre will be a welcome addition to the eye-catching landmark, which has no facilities for visitors. But the objectors say the Pineapple is cherished by the local community for its tranquil, woodland setting and the development would change its character completely.

George Lawrie, who lives in Airth, said: “Let’s stop calling this a ‘visitor centre for the Pineapple’. It is a privately owned, for profit café/farm shop which will do little or nothing for the local community. The fact that we are all being asked to accept the loss to our valuable countryside environment to a now much expanded enabling development, extending two kilometres from the site, is simply unjustifiable and unwanted by the majority of local residents.”

The plans for a visitor centre, cafe and housing have yet to be decided on

Previously, councillors backed plans for a visitor centre and 22 bungalows to fund the development. But they also wanted to see improvements to the roads – including a new roundabout on the A905 – which led the developer to withdraw the initial plans and quadruple the number of houses that would be built in order to fund the project.

With a decision expected to be made soon, residents are now urging councillors to reject the plans and are seeking the support of Airth Parish Council, which is currently taking a neutral position.

In Airth, hundreds of houses are already being built by Lochay Homes on the other side of the lane that divides the village from Airth Mains Farm. Mr Lawrie says it means that a countryside walk – which was invaluable to residents during lockdown – will become a narrow corridor, hemmed in by houses on either side.

Central Scotland Green MSP, Gillian Mackay, says she fully supports the residents who are speaking out. She is particularly concerned at the company’s plans to make the bungalows available for people aged over-55 only.

She said: “I have grave concerns around how this would be enforced, the legality of this proposal and the pressure it would pile on already stretched local health services. This area is of significant heritage and is cherished by the local community. It offers a space where people enhance physical and mental health through walking and running, and is home to a wealth of wildlife. It is vital that we protect our greenspaces to allow the existing wildlife and biodiversity to flourish.”

Owned by the National Trust for Scotland (NTS), the Pineapple was built in 1761 by the Earl of Dunmore as a summerhouse. These days the walled garden that surrounds it is described by NTS as an oasis for wildlife and the charity has objected formally to the plans.

NTS chief executive, Phil Long, has previously spoken out against the proposal, saying that “this development scheme would have a hugely adverse impact on the site”. It has also told Falkirk Council that they won’t be involved in any way and believe the visitor centre is “perhaps best understood as a cafe and retail use”.

Another resident, Graham Henderson, said: “The destruction of prime agricultural land spanning up to around two kilometres from the Pineapple, to provide supporting finance for a visitor centre and associated roundabout, unwanted by the National Trust for Scotland and the vast majority of the village of Airth, is completely unjustified.”

Fellow campaigner Pauline Rogers points out that land has not been designated for development and says that other successful applications – such as the 500 new houses to be built in Polmont – mean there is no need for the Airth houses.

However, Mr Russell’s agent, David Jones, believes the visitor centre will provide much-needed facilities.

Mr Jones said: “Casual visitors to the Pineapple currently have no facilities, restricted accessibility and no means to stay longer than the time it takes to glimpse the iconic structure. The visitor centre proposal will allow longer stays with washroom facilities, safe access for all and provide a focus for greater economic activity in relation to jobs and support for local suppliers. It will also provide a destination for many local cyclists, walkers and residents. No other organisation or the National Trust have any plans to provide these facilities.”

He also rejects the suggestion that it will only be a cafe and shop, pointing out that the report details that the building will contain a cafe, of 251m2, and washrooms with a tourist information and display area of 193 m2. There will also be an arts and craft workshop and associated retail area (each 30 m2).

He added: “This size and distribution of uses is very much in line with visitor centres at both the nearby Kelpies and Falkirk Wheel. The information and display area will not only focus on the Pineapple heritage building but provide a wider showcase for all other local attractions adding to the growing visitor interest in the Falkirk area.”

Mr Jones added that the application is supported by a number and range of specialist reports that suggest there will be “no significant adverse impact and provide suitable mitigation or enhancement where appropriate.”

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