BRITAIN’s largest landowner is facing a backlash over plans to demolish a 160-year-old hunting lodge on his Highland estate which was used as a rural getaway by the royal family.
Gerald Grosvenor, the 6th Duke of Westminster, is seeking permission to flatten Lochmore Lodge on his 96,000-acre Reay Forest estate in Sutherland.
He faces opposition from locals who believe the hunting lodge, built around 1850, has historic significance.
The proposal is being investigated by Historic Scotland, the government quango, which said the lodge is believed to have been visited by ‘a number of prominent figures’ during the last century.
They include Prince Charles, who stayed there as a 13-year-old boy when he visited the Queen, Prince Philip and Princess Anne as guests of the Duchess of Westminster in 1961.
Prince Charles is believed to have returned years later when he was married to Diana.
Other notable visitors are said to include the former prime ministers Winston Churchill and Neville Chamberlain.
The Duke, who is worth an estimated £8 billion, wants to destroy the building, which has been lying idle since 2003 and costs thousands of pounds a year in upkeep and maintenance.
The sprawling property, which boasts 15 bedrooms, seven bathrooms, a library, a television room, a dressing room, a playroom and pantry, is considered surplus to requirements.
Sources close to the estate said alternative uses for the lodge had been explored but rejected on financial grounds.
These include a hotel and an outward bound centre.
Documents lodged with Highland council state: “Having extensively explored potential uses and occupiers, there is no viable owner requirement or commercial use of the property.”
Last week, the local community council said it intends to object to the proposal.
Donald Fisher, chairman of Scourie community council, said: “We have been notified of the planning application and we are not too happy about it.
“There is a degree of significance and value to the property which will be lost if it is demolished. It is part of our natural local heritage.”
A source close to the estate said objections to the duke’s plans are ‘absurd.’ “Every possible alternative use of the building has been looked at.
“There’s no viable alternative and it is surprising the community council plans to object. It’s not a particularly attractive building.”
The Duke’s planning wrangle over Lochmore mirrors attempts by one of his firms to block a controversial string of fast-food outlets on the outskirts of Inverness.
It was reported in September that consultants hired by the duke’s firm Grosvenor had lodged objections to proposals, which include three drive-through restaurants at the Inverness Business and Retail Park.
They claim the scheme would have a ‘detrimental impact’ on the future of the city centre, including the Grosvenor-owned Eastgate Shopping Centre.
Last week, a spokesman for Historic Scotland said a detailed assesment of Lochmore Lodge had not yet started but it understood ‘a number of prominent figures visited the house in the 20th century.’
He said: “Lochmore Lodge has been drawn to our attention as a possible building of special architectural or historic interest. We will now investigate whether it meets the criteria for listing.”
Dougal Lindsay, factor of Reay Forest estate, said: “We fully recognise that it is important to involve the local community as part of the due planning process and hope to hold discussions with the community council in particular.
“The property has been vacant since 2003. Since then a wide variety of options have been examined but none has proved feasible, given the investment required. The condition of the house is deteriorating significantly and the trustees felt they had no alternative but to apply to demolish it.”