THE developers behind controversial plans for a £50 million ‘eco-therapy wellness park’ near Auchinleck are mulling over their next move after East Ayrshire councillors knocked back the proposals.

Members of planning committee at East Ayrshire Council (EAC) turned down the outline application for the park on the site of the former Barony Colliery – with the knife-edge decision resting on the casting vote of the authority’s Provost, Jim Todd, after the committee was split six votes apiece.

The plans, by developers National Pride UK, sparked more than 70 objections from members of the public, who raised concerns over the environmental impact of the proposals - with EAC officials also recommending refusal.

However, the application also attracted support from several local groups, with Auchinleck Community Council (ACC), the Auchinleck Community Development Initiative and the Ayrshire Chamber of Commerce all giving the scheme their support.

ACC has raised fears that National Pride may simply decide to walk away from East Ayrshire altogether following the decision - though the developer insists it remains "fully committed" to the site.

Other options open to the developer include submitting a new, amended application to the council, addressing the concerns raised by officials and some members of the committee, or submitting an appeal to the Scottish Government, asking it to overturn the decision.

EAC senior planning officer Mhairi Douglas said the recommendation to refuse permission was based on the potential impact on the ‘re-wilded’ former colliery site, the risk to protected and rare wildlife in the area, and the lack of information as to the suitability and stability of the coal bing that forms much of the site.

Cumnock Chronicle: The huge investment plan was rejected by councillors.The huge investment plan was rejected by councillors. (Image: Orbit)

Following the committee's decision, Irene Bisset, chair of National Pride UK, commented: “We are clearly disappointed at the decision to refuse planning permission in principle.

"We remain fully committed to the development of the site as an eco-therapy wellness park as outlined in our proposal.

"We are waiting on the council’s formal letter of refusal and when received, we will determine what course of action to take.

"We appreciate the swell of support we have received from individuals and community groups since the council decision to refuse our application and we would like to convey our sincerest appreciation and thanks to all.”

Auchinleck Community Council (ACC), which supported the application, said the community felt “totally let down” by the decision – and is now worried that the developer might walk away from the area altogether.

An ACC spokesperson told the Chronicle this week: “Auchinleck Community Council are surprised and dismayed at the refusal of these proposals. 

“This has the potential to be a ‘game-changer’ for East Ayrshire, delivering a £60 million investment in our locality and deliver ing hundreds of jobs, as well as bringing tourists to the area.

“Not only will local businesses clearly benefit, but we were particularly impressed with the provision of training and employment opportunities for disadvantaged individuals in the former coalfields area of East Ayrshire."

They added: “As the applicants made clear, this was an application for planning permission in principle, which serves to establish the principle of development of a site allocated for leisure and recreational uses.

“Both this application and further detailed applications could have had conditions attached by the planning officers, addressing concerns over impacts on ecology and the bing. 

“The community of Auchinleck and the surrounding area feel totally let down by this decision and our only hope can be that East Ayrshire Council will seek to re-engage with National Pride so that they do not walk away from this by investing in an alternative location outwith East Ayrshire.”