Plans to build flats in the partly-demolished shell of a former Aberdeen oil headquarters have fallen at the first hurdle.
Faro Properties’ proposals for Quattro House were likened to a “fortress” in Wellington Circle, such was the need for acoustic barriers to protect would-be residents from nearby noisy depots.
Councillors voted unanimously to refuse outline planning permission, which would have changed the use of the former Petrofac headquarters from business to residential use.
Royal Mail objected to the plans, fearing they could spell trouble for the existing, 24-hour operations of its noisy, floodlit base if residents were ever to complain.
Viewed as an “important asset”, it supports at least 350 jobs all year round – with more at peak times like Christmas – and aids the delivery of mail to 300,000 addresses in Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Moray, Orkney and Shetland.
Despite those concerns, and early objections from Nigg Community Council, Town House planners had recommended the scheme be approved in principle.
However, planning convener Marie Boulton stepped in – asking her colleagues to back her calls to reject proposals with “no redeeming qualities”.
“This location is absolutely not the right place to put residential properties,” she told them.
“It is not – in any shape or form – an acceptable location for residential development: private, affordable or otherwise.
“I wouldn’t live there and I wouldn’t expect anyone else to.
“I cannot say I was not kind of shocked at the recommendation to approve because I was.”
Mrs Boulton drew attention to the busy Wellington Road dual carriageway on one side of the site, which she said would pose a danger to residents – along with frequent heavy goods vehicles in Wellington Circle “at all times of the day and night”.
Royal Mail is not alone on a busy industrial estate also home to Parcel Force, DHL and other distribution firms.
Because of this, planners had urged councillors to insist on the developer putting up a near-10ft-tall acoustic barrier on the northern side of the site, and near-6ft-high barriers on the remaining sides.
Some windows would also have been fixed shut to prevent noise getting in.
Liberal Democrat Martin Greig backed Mrs Boulton, telling members the proposed barriers “almost create a fortress” and the development did not meet the city’s housing standards.
“I share concerns that excessive measures are needed to protect future residents from noise and light pollution.
“There is real conflict between the residential use of this proposal and the context in which it is located.
“They are looking at creating a kind of hermetically sealed bubble in that environment, it’s just not suitable or appropriate.”
Claims long-term vacancy was down to ‘oversupply’ of commercial premises in Aberdeen
Faro, through consultants Halliday Fraser Munro, had applied to build 79 flats, doubling the C-shaped office building from two storeys to four.
Petrofac left the 46,000 square ft block in summer 2015 and – despite persistent marketing – no one has taken the lease on.
It was last on the market for £1.5m and there is yet to be any “significant interest”, something blamed on the “oversupply” of commercial premises in Aberdeen.
Council planners backed the change of land use, despite it being against both the current and soon-to-be-refreshed Aberdeen local development plans, having accepted the market is saturated.
That around half the building was to be reused and not bulldozed also boosted the sustainable credentials of the plans.
However, there is already sufficient land earmarked for homes in the Granite City in the coming years.
Pressing that point home, Mrs Boulton added: “We have heard about the abundance of employment land and unused offices but we have also heard we have well-planned, considered, locations for housing – many approved in the immediate locality are already underway.
“I do not see an awful lot of vacant business properties in the immediate vicinity.
“We have to take a step back from sweeping statements of ‘there are just too many empty offices’.”