THE Borders is to welcome one of the richest royal families in the world.
Members of the planning committee at Scottish Borders Council (SBC) gave the go-ahead to a falconry breeding centre in Bonchester Bridge by applicant Sheikh Ali Abdullah Bin Jassom Al Thani.
The Qatar businessman says the breeding of birds of prey is a favoured hobby in his home country, with members of the Qatari royal family expected to visit the new facility.
Head of the family, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, emir of Qatar, is said to have a personal net worth of £1.5billion and was linked with a bid to buy Manchester United in 2011.
Planning committee member councillor Donald Moffat said: “These are the type of people we want to attract and hopefully when they see the Borders they will want to travel elsewhere in Scotland.”
SBC’s roads officer Derek Inglis raised no objections to the plans for the former farmhouse, which will not be open to the public, but Kelso councillor Simon Mountford warned of potential congestion issues associated with the Qataris.
He said: “I am supportive but if they are anything like our royal family, they will have a huge level of security, which means there will be a number of cars with every visit.”
Councillor Jim Fullarton raised concerns that the centre – which is expected to create five jobs – could be targeted by criminals.
He said: “I know in my ward that there are peregrine falcons whose eggs have been targeted by collectors.
“I hope this applicant is aware of the risks.”
But SBC’s development standards manager John Hayward said the birds were highly valued and would be monitored closely within their pens.
Selkirkshire councillor Michelle Ballantyne added: “The value of the birds means the site will be kept in pristine condition.”
In support of Sheikh Ali’s bid, SBC was told that the Bonchester Bridge base would breed and then sell the hawks to guests who would stay in accommodation built as part of the application.
This will allow visitors to watch the birds train before buying.
Agent James Murdie told planners: “This client and development will bring a huge financial advantage to this rural region from an everyday use basis to visiting clients and family from Qatar.”
Alongside the construction of breeding and hack pens, a pond will also be created.
Mr Murdie added: “The breeding of high-quality hawks from good bloodstock and training for hunting is a popular pastime in Qatar and the reputation for hawks trained in the UK is excellent.
“The proposed business is intended to take advantage of this reputation and local expertise and apply them to the property resource at Weensmuir Farm.
“The business will depend on custom from visiting high-net-worth individuals, many of whom are members of the royal family or considered to be dignitaries.
“In addition, the majority of the visiting customers expect to travel with a considerable entourage of between 12 to 15 persons. It is expected that these persons will be accommodated on the farm alongside the visiting customers in order to provide their ongoing services.”