Glendale cafe owner slams cash handout for new community hub

BY LISA FALCONER

lisa.falconer@whfp.co.uk

A Skye businesswoman has criticised plans to turn the former Borrodale School into a community hub over fears it will affect existing businesses.

Fay Thomson, who operates Ceiteag’s Cafe in Glendale, also attacked the allocation of public money to the project.

Glendale Trust have been awarded £190,000 from the Scottish Land Fund to purchase the former school building and grounds and develop it for community use. Proposals include renovating the three-bedroom schoolhouse and making it available to rent; converting the school into a 16-bed bunkhouse, and constructing a community hub and children’s play area in the school grounds. It is envisaged that the hub will host a bar and restaurant, heritage and exhibition area, as well as community laundrette, bike shed and meeting space.

The trust’s business plan states that a commercial operator will be appointed to operate the hub under a lease – of £37,000 per annum – and will be obliged to open year-round and in the evenings.

Ms Thomson has already spoken to the Glendale Trust about inaccuracies in their business plan including population numbers and a statement that her own business is due to close this year – while it is on the  market, she said there were no plans to close the cafe – and changes have been made in response.

She has also written to Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the Scottish Land Fund, Highland Council and other government bodies questioning their support for the project. She said: “My concerns are twofold. Firstly, that Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the Scottish Land Fund, Highland Council and other government bodies intend to spend more than £1.2 million to support a project that will close an existing business and the jobs it creates.

“Secondly, that government organisations are using public funds to back a business plan that is full of inaccuracies and, in my opinion, farcical in terms of meeting its aims and objectives.”

Ms Thomson added: “There’s more than eight weeks since I wrote to Highland Council and HIE (and, more recently to the Scottish Land Fund) regarding my concerns. I’ve not yet received a satisfactory explanation of their actions. Each of these organisations has indicated that they are not funding the redevelopment of Borrodale School – merely the purchase of the building and pre-project costs. What I want to know is, why they have already granted combined public funds of more than £215,000, if they are not supporting the entire project?”

Announcing the funding last week, Scottish Land Fund committee chair John Watt said: “Communities can achieve great things when they own and manage their own land and assets. I am delighted the Scottish Land Fund is able to help this group realise its aspirations for community ownership and I look forward to seeing their future progress.”

Elgar Finlay, local development officer for the Glendale Trust, added: “The Scottish Land Fund award will help safeguard an important asset for the community of Glendale which has a great deal of emotional attachment to the area. The funding will also allow an ambitious project for the site to be developed further. The community is now in a fantastic position to ensure that the school site continues to contribute to the benefit of Glendale for generations to come.”