Bold plans to not only protect but also enhance one of Skye’s most iconic landmarks and its surroundings have moved a significant step nearer
For Staffin Community Trust (SCT) has awarded a key contract which will assess the potential purchase and improvements of local authority-owned land at the Old Man of Storr.
The move is set across a back drop of growing concerns from the local community about major parking congestion, road safety generally and the lack of toilet facilities which has sparked real public health concerns.
Now SCT has appointed an experienced project team to investigate the Highland Council site which is not only a well used recreational resources for local users but annual attracts tens of thousands of visitors from all over the world.
A consortium led by Dingwall-based Athena Solutions, and partners Richard Heggie of Urban Animation and Sam Foster Architects, were successful in the tendering process and have now started work on an Options Appraisal of the 82-hectare roadside site, which includes a felled commercial forest.
The Trust see this new initiative as an opportunity for the local community to potentially create local employment and market Staffin and local businesses far more strongly. The project could involve a new off-road main car park, toilets, interpretation and refreshment kiosk/information point
Earlier this year SCT wrote to the council regarding the site at the Storr from the A855 roadside upwards and expressed its interest in purchasing the land. It followed a major community consultation in Staffin which strongly backed the SCT managing or purchasing the area.
More than 85 per cent of the responders to the consultation, held last November, supported the SCT’s direct involvement at the site. SCT then held further talks with council officials, HIE and the Community Ownership Support Service.
The SCT board came to the unanimous view that it is a hugely important project for the community in north-east Skye and the wider island and its key objectives of creating local employment, promoting Staffin more extensively and helping the local economy.
The contract will review all the options at the location, with the estimated costs and community and economic benefit for each one investigated. That will include an assessment of the liabilities, maintenance, potential capital and running costs, etc.
The consultant team will present the options to the SCT board in September. The preferred option will be decided upon, and a Business Case will then be presented in October. The options include a proposed buy-out of all the land, a section of the ground or a lease/partnership arrangement with the council. Following that process, SCT will then look to take the Business Case to the council. The community will be kept updated throughout the work.
SCT say they are grateful to have received funding from the council’s ward discretionary fund, Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and the Scottish Land Fund for the work. The consultant team themselves has recently worked on the proposed redevelopment of the Lochmaddy Hospital in South Uist and a major affordable housing development in Bowmore, Islay.
Hazel Allen, a director of Athena Solutions, said: “We are delighted to be appointed to work with SCT and the community on this landmark site. We appreciate the importance of this project to the community, and the need to find solutions to the issues identified by the recent community consultation and raised by stakeholders.”
SCT has been in positive talks with the council’s development and infrastructure service since 2014 about the visitor experience at the Storr, which attracts thousands of people each year but experiences parking congestion and lacks amenities, such as toilets.The exact size of site which SCT would seek to purchase would be determined through the work of an options appraisal. That will see all the options reviewed, the estimated costs and community and economic benefit of each one investigated.
SCT issued consultation questionnaires in November 2015 to all households and businesses in the Staffin Community Council area, which includes residents at the Storr, and is home to more than 500 people.Each household received one survey and additional copies were provided on request. A total of 255 questionnaires were issued from week beginning November 9 2015. 140 surveys were returned, giving a 54.9 per cent response rate.
A 40-page report outlining the results was published on staffin-trust.co.uk
The SCT views the Storr as a key gateway to Staffin and vital economic driver for shops, cafes, accommodation providers and other businesses. More than 100,000 people visited the Storr last year. Council-led traffic surveys have estimated that approximately 70 per cent of Storr visitors continue north on the A855 road to Staffin.