Eight years after coming across a ruined mansion in the woods, and thinking it should be restored to its former glory, Grant Keenan’s dream is almost a reality.
“It’s been a long and at times frustrating process’ admits the dad of three, ‘but I’m so glad we stuck it out and now it’s coming to fruition.”
Larbert House, situated in Larbert Woods beside Larbert Loch, was built in 1822 by renowned architect David Hamilton, who also designed Falkirk Steeple and Larbert Parish Church. It’s been derelict for over a decade, with a fire in 2006 turning it in to a ruin.
But now construction has started on a £13 million project to turn the mansion, stable block and walled gardens into 20 luxury apartments, 19 detached homes and 18 mews.
Grant, who lives in Larbert, was walking his dog in the woods soon after the 2006 fire when he stumbled across the mansion and the plans to turn it into housing were set in motion.
Grant, who has worked for several large housebuilders in the past and lives with wife Fiona, a former physiotherapist, and children Michael (13), a pupil at Larbert High, Amy (11) and Racheal (9), both pupils at Ladeside Primary, admits his first solo project was a daunting one.
“I love old buildings and the thought of doing a new build didn’t appeal to me. I knew it wouldn’t be long before Larbert House was past saving so started my enquiries almost straight after I saw it.”
He wrote to the NHS, who had already applied to demolish the B listed building, and eventually a deal was reached in 2010 to sell the property to Grant’s company Strathyre Properties.
However, planning proved to be a problem with Falkirk Council’s planning committee going against the recommendation from officers to approve the site. They refused in April 2012, citing over development and the strain the it would put on local schools as the reasons.
It meant Strathyre Properties were forced to appeal to the Scottish Executive who overturned the decision in September 2012.
Grant said: “That was the one time I seriously thought about throwing in the towel and walking away. There was a huge financial strain on us and I had to consider counting my losses and moving on. The planning delays ended up costing us tens of thousands of pounds and put the whole project back as we were hoping to have the first residents in by Christmas 2012.
“That it had been cited as being over developed was laughable. This is a large site and only 57 properties are being built. In fact when the Scottish Executive visited, their experts said it was one of the most under-developed sites they had come across.”
Further set backs came from with issues surrounding access roads but finally, this summer work on the site started with the first mews home in the stable block nearing completion and the residents to move in before Christmas.
“It’s two years later than I’d hoped, but with renovations, you need to expect the unexpected.”
Many of the original features in both the house and stable block have been retained. Workers found past owners the Graham family’s crest in a pile of rubble and it will be reinstated at the main entrance.
Stone masons are working to piece together broken decorative exterior features and moulds have been taken of salvaged cornicing to replicate them in the restoration. The front entrance will be restored to its former glory and the original pillars, although unable to be reused, will be given a new lease of life and turned into seating.
Falkirk Herald historian Ian Scott said he was happy to see Larbert House saved from demolition.
He said: “The restoration of Larbert House is terrific news for all those who love our historic buildings.
“There was a time not long ago when it looked like it was going to join the long list of lost mansion houses and so the rescue is especially welcome.
“Larbert House dates back to the end of the 18th century and was remodelled around 1822 by the famous architect David Hamilton not long after he completed Larbert Parish Church and Falkirk’s Steeple, which marks’ it’s 200th birthday this year.”
Larbert House will be transformed into 12 two, three and four bedroom apartments with a further eight apartments in a discreet extension to the mansion. The development will also include 19 detached houses and 18 mews on the spacious site.
The properties will range in price from £215,000 for a stable mews to £600,000 for a detached home and already several have been reserved while one family is waiting to move in.
The public will still have right to access the woods surrounding the development and the loch.
Grant said: “The woods are a real asset to the community and our development will open them up further. We’re installing street lighting, so dog walkers will be able to access the woods after dark.
“The community has been really supportive of the project. I often get stopped by walkers who tell me they are glad the house is being saved.”
Currently it’s an eyesore with piles of rubble, no roof and surrounded by high metal railings to keep children from playing in the dangerous site.
The house will be the last phase in the project and should be completed in 2017.
Grant added: “It’s been a difficult journey over the past eight years and I think seeing the first residents move in will be emotional.
“But would I do it again? Yes, without hesitation.
“I’ve already got my eye on a few other renovation projects in the area. Much to my wife’s dismay!”