Nov 13 2012 by Denis Brown, Perthshire Advertiser
Perth’s former Cherrybank Centre and Garden tourist magnet has been bought by an energy company, it emerged yesterday.
The Glasgow Road site had been in limbo after closing in March 2008 following the collapse of ambitious plans to install the national Calyx garden development amid a failed bid for £25 million in lottery funding.
It is understood Scotland’s Garden Trust (SGT), which leased the top floor of the defunct visitors’ centre to the Braveheart Investment Group, has been trying to sell the property for around £1 million.
New owner, Perth-based oil and gas industry expert, Merlin ERD Ltd, will remodel and occupy the building’s ground floor and has pledged to maintain the famous garden, which is unlikely to reopen to the public.
Yesterday, the five-year-old Perth firm’s business manager Colin Grant said sitting tenants Braveheart would remain, while the extra space would enable Merlin to expand.
He more or less ruled out the garden reopening but added that one possibility was using the space from a social enterprise point of view.
“People who could benefit from being in the garden for work experience, that kind of thing – it would allow us to give something back,” he said yesterday.
“One thing I can assure you is that the garden won’t be allowed to go to seed, but I’d say opening it to the public is not a feature of our current thought processes.”
Confirming the site’s sale to Merlin, Peter Fairlie, chief executive of SGT, said that despite much effort, Cherrybank had not proved viable for any party as a stand-alone garden attraction.
“Without substantial subsidy or capital investment, as well as ongoing annual maintenance expenditure support, there was no future in the visitor facility,” he said.
“The six-acre facility has been on the market for some time and with the economic downturn limiting opportunities for a sale, despite continued interest, this has only recently materialised.”
PKC councillor Willie Wilson, however, expressed “blunt disappointment” yesterday that the site had been lost for community use, blaming SGT for reneging on a historic agreement.
“It’s disappointing that the land could not have been given over to community use and now that opportunity appears to have been lost forever,” he said.
In 2003, multi-national Diageo gifted the CherrybanYk Gardens site to form part of a world-class 60-acre garden attraction, the Calyx project, which eventually failed to take root in Perth.
The caveat, according to Cllr Wilson, was a “clear understanding” that the site should have then reverted to Perth trust, Live Active Leisure, which would then discuss possibilities for the site with PKC.
“The council had extensive discussions over the years with SGT regarding the possibilities for the site, including community use, however, these discussions came to nothing due to obduracy and a refusal to take forward the sensible ideas and proposals made to them,” he blasted.
“SGT walked away from discussions with the council and reneged on the historic agreement.”
He added that about one third of the site near the ponds bordering Glasgow Road featured in PKC’s local development plan as a biodiversity site and as such was excluded from any development proposals.
When asked what he thought about the site’s intriguing back story, Mr Grant said the company had simply “ignored all of that”.
“From our point of view, this opportunity is what we see as the potential to grow our business and employ more people,” he said.
“At the moment we have 12 staff in Perth and a further six or seven out in the field but the potential for growth is amazing and once we move into Cherrybank next April, we will be able to let that expansion happen.”
SGT board member and BBC TV’s Beechgrove Garden star, Jim McColl, said he was delighted about the new custodian, saying it was the most appropriate outcome to anything since Calyx had withered.