Hermitage Golf Course is a golf course with a difference. Run by Autism Ventures Scotland (part of Autism Initiatives) it offers training and support to adults with autism, who get involved in horticutural and other activities on the site. The cafe offers a range of delicious cakes and snacks.
Things are going to change however. Autism Ventures Scotland is three years into a forty year lease on the site so they're not going anywhere but they are looking at ways of developing the income generation potential of the site.
I went along to the public consultation of the site redevelopment today.
One thing that's definitely going to change is the club house. The current building is supposed to be only temporary, is in poor condition and is only still standing pending a new one being built. The plans for the new building are very impressive, it will have a green roof and a south facing aspect and will be built using environmentally friendly materials wherever possible, though there are complicated reasons preventing them from using renewable energy in the building. The only actual problem anyone could see with this building was that if the overall redevelopment plan fails then the new building might act as a precedent for building a lot more new buildings on this site (which was saved from being turned into housing when Autism Ventures Scotland took on the lease).
More controversial is the plan to add a mountain biking track to the site. This would have potential impact on the wildlife of the area and also could cause conflict with other users of the site, walkers and birdwatchers as well as golfers - it seems to me that putting a mountain bike track round the perimeter of a gold course would be bizarre to say the least. People who work with the adults with autism who use the site are concerned that hundreds of mountain bikers dashing round the site would have a detrimental effect on the very people the site is supposed to help. I think the audience were probably mostly prepared to be open minded about the mountain biking until the presenter started talking about 'dead land' (ie open space) and looked totally blank when asked about the environmental impact of building 4km of asphalt track round the site. Also going against the proposal is the fact that people won't pay to use the mountain biking facilty and income generation will all be via the cafe, equipment hire and meeting room hire. (Plus charity fundraising).
Overall, I'm in favour of the site being developed for recreation if that can be done in a way that doesn't negatively impact on the wildlife or the existing amenity value of the area. However I'm not at all convinced that the mountain biking proposal fits the bill.
Read the Friends of Hermitage of Braid and Blackford Hill comments on the plans.