Bid to open Fore Play crazy golf in Edinburgh's Grassmarket hits brick wall after Scottish Government agrees with council

A ‘boozy’ adults-only crazy golf course in Edinburgh city centre has failed in its bid to move into new premises in the Old Town.

Fore Play, which already operates a ‘temporary’ nine-hole venue at Picardy Place, lodged an appeal with the Scottish Government after the council said no to proposals for a new course across two floors of a vacated Grassmarket building.

Described as ‘a locally-inspired, social experience for grown-ups’ on its website, Fore Play offers “bespoke” crazy golf where players can drink “signature cocktails” while they putt.

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Since opening courses in Edinburgh and Glasgow, the company has amassed almost 10,000 likes on Facebook and has quickly become one of the city centre’s most popular entertainment attractions.

Fore Play sign

But its plans to plant a flag in the heart of the Old Town and move to bigger premises at 1 Grassmarket, previously occupied by Red Dog Music, have hit a brick wall.

An application requesting change of use of the building and permission to build a mini golf course, bar, kitchen, eating area and toilets was submitted last year by Fore Play, which said the property “had been lying empty for three years”.

“When we clapped eyes on the 19th century listed building we knew we wanted to create something special for the community to be proud of,” it added.

However, in March councillors refused the application after city planners deemed the idea “unacceptable”.

They argued it would “fail to respect the architectural integrity and character of the building” and could end up causing noisy disturbances to Grassmarket residents.

And this week the Scottish Government agreed with the council’s view – upholding the ruling after an appeal was launched by the applicant.

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Tammy Swift-Adams, a Government reporter, said the two-floor golf venue, which would be open until 11 pm, would have “significant adverse impacts” on the area, including exacerbating an “existing concentration of uses that are collectively detrimental to the living conditions of local residents, and diluting the area’s speciality shopping function”.

However, he added: “The proposal also has some notable benefits.

“It would provide a new purpose for a vacant building and the appellants are committed to repairing flood damage. It would help the appellant continue the employment of staff currently working at their temporary venue at Picardy Place.

“I believe the proposed use would be highly enjoyable for its customers. However, I have concluded these benefits would be significantly and demonstrably outweighed by the adverse impacts I have identified.”

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Mr Swift-Adams explained the adverse impacts “relate specifically to the unique combination of the proposed use and antecedent use mix and living condition challenges in Grassmarket”.

He also said it had “not been demonstrated the appellant will not find premises elsewhere that are appropriate both to its business and in planning terms”, adding other proposals such as a chocolate museum and office space for a charity have been mooted since the music shop closed in 2018, although the landlord “did not favour the former” and the pandemic “led to the latter being put on hold”.

The planning reporter concluded: “Even if a retail use does prove impossible to reattract over a longer period of time, there may be other compatible uses that do not trigger the difficult but justified combination of policy barriers that are in play here.”