North Skye's local community has formally submitted a bid to purchase land close to the iconic visitor hot spot of the Old Man of Storr.
The Staffin Community Trust (SCT) has lodged an Asset Transfer Request (ATR) to The Highland Council for a section of roadside ground near the popular island landmark so it can construct a new car park, public toilets and interpretation.
It comes after several years of talks between SCT and the council, a major community consultation and the conclusion of a site options appraisal/business plan by a consultant team.
The local community has significant concerns about parking congestion and road safety at the busy site, which is off the A855 Portree-Staffin road, and the lack of toilets, which has sparked public health complaints. These concerns have been exacerbated because of the increasing numbers of visitors to the Storr with an estimated 150,000 people in 2016, which is an increase of 60,000 people from 2014’s total.
The ATR is understood to have been one of the first submitted in the Highlands following the introduction of new Community Empowerment legislation in January by the Scottish Government.
SCT is confident that the site plan, which includes the construction of a new car park with more than 100 spaces, public toilets, tree planting and interpretation will create employment (1.8 FTE per year) and a direct economic benefit to the north-east Skye community, and wider island. A fee for using the car park would be charged, a proposal which was supported by residents in the community consultation. The land in question has been valued at £1,000.
The SCT board views the purchase of the Storr site as hugely important for the community in north-east Skye and the wider island and its key objectives of creating jobs, promoting Staffin more extensively and helping the local economy.
SCT has enjoyed a positive and collaborative relationship with the council since initial talks about the Storr back in 2010. SCT’s board is grateful to the local authority for its willingness to work with the community to find a solution that could significantly enhance the visitor experience at the Storr, while acknowledging its own investment to improve the site in recent years.
Staffin is an economically ‘fragile’ rural community and SCT is particularly keen to attract investment to preserve and promote heritage and protect the assets within the Trotternish landscape. The recent £522,000 Heritage Lottery Fund award for the Skye Ecomuseum II is a sign of confidence in the area's appeal and SCT's ability to deliver a project on this scale.
The council acknowledged the ATR last week (6.3.17) and will respond within six months. The council has set aside £400,000 of development funding for car park improvements at the site.
If the ATR is granted, SCT will seek funding from a variety of sources to deliver the proposed site capital works, which are currently estimated at up to £900,000. The work may be carried out in phases but no decision has been made by SCT’s board until the council respond to the ATR.
SCT chairman Sandy Ogilvie said: “This an exciting and important step forward by the trust and comes after a lot of work in the last few years. The Storr is a world-renowned landmark but also a key gateway to our community. Ownership could secure a range of benefits for local people and businesses while enhancing the visitor experience.”
Staffin residents had strongly backed the SCT managing or purchasing the site. More than 85 per cent of the responders to the January 2016 consultation supported the SCT’s direct involvement at the Storr.
A consortium team led by Dingwall-based Athena Solutions, Urban Animation and Sam Foster Architects, subsequently carried out the options appraisal on the 82-hectare roadside site, which includes a felled commercial forest and was purchased by the local authority in the mid-1990s.
SCT say they are grateful to have received funding from Highland Council’s Eilean a’ Cheò’s Ward Discretionary Fund, Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and the Scottish Land Fund. It has also received excellent advice and guidance from HIE’s community assets department and the Community Ownership Support Service.