Plans to refurbish at-risk Caldwell House by using funds raised from building a retirement village in its greenbelt grounds have been dealt another blow after developers lost their appeal.

Caldwell Developments Ltd had called on the Scottish Government to overturn East Renfrewshire planning committee’s decision to refuse planning permission, arguing “much more weight should have been given to the public benefits” of saving the A-listed building at Uplawmoor.

Council planners had recommended the project could be approved, but councillors had concerns over the felling of trees, the impact on health services, including pressure on GPs, and a “reliance on private car travel” to the site.

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An independent reporter, David Liddell, was appointed by Scottish Ministers to assess the appeal, and he has decided the location is “unsuitable and unsustainable” for a retirement village.

The developers said the plan was the “last chance” to save the dilapidated Robert Adam-designed property, which they planned to turn into 15 assisted living flats.

A new village, exclusively for over 55s, would have been created on the Caldwell Estate, with a 60-bed care home, 51 assisted living flats and 122 bungalows as well as offices, a cafe, shop and a hair and beauty salon.

Caldwell Developments’ reported a conservation deficit of £11m and said the “enabling development” — the village — would cost £52.8m and raise £63.9m, covering the shortfall. The firm also planned to revamp the B-listed Keeper’s House within the grounds.

In an appeal statement, the developers claimed “the scale of enabling development is the minimum necessary to secure the future restoration and conversion of the listed buildings”.

They argued woodland removal “should be allowed only where it would achieve significant and clearly defined additional public benefits” and “the most significant public benefit is the restoration of Caldwell House”.

The statement added: “Much more weight should have been given to the public benefits arising from the permanent cultural heritage benefit if Caldwell House, Keeper’s House and Caldwell Estate are restored by allowing the enabling development to proceed.

“The enabling development and the restoration proposals are in the ownership of the appellant and there are no other opportunities to deliver the significant public benefits from the restoration proposals other than to develop land within the greenbelt.”

Caldwell Developments proposed an electric minibus service rather than subsidising a bus service to the site and argued the council had “placed too much emphasis on the use of and dependency on private car, rather than recognising the ongoing use of the private car as an essential part of the transport mode mix proposed for a site in a rural location”.

The reporter decided there was “no evidence” to contradict the developers’ view that the “proposed works would represent the beneficial repair and restoration of an important listed building”.

He agreed the benefits of full restoration “greatly outweigh the adverse effects on setting”, but he did “not consider the overall proposal to be appropriate for the location”.

“I have significant concerns about the sustainability of creating what in effect would be a new settlement in the countryside,” he added.  “The nearest main towns with community and commercial services (notably Barrhead and Neilston to the northeast, or Beith to the west) are at several kilometres distance with no bus service between them and the site.”

He said the proposal would generate significant travel and “the fairly isolated rural location is unsuitable for the nature of the development proposed”.

“My concerns about the unsuitable and unsustainable nature of the site location for the proposed retirement village are such that they are not overcome in carrying out my statutory duty in respect of the listed buildings.”

The reporter did overturn the council’s decision to reject listed building permission, as he decided they could be considered separately.

He agreed with the developer that the council’s reasons for refusal had related to “the effects of the enabling development not to the effects of the works to the listed buildings”.

However, the funds raised from the enabling development would have paid for the refurbishment of Caldwell House.