Portree Hotel boss unveils ambitious plans for Somerled Square

Campbell Dickson with his model vision for Portree
Photo: Willie Urquhart WHFP

The boss of the Portree Hotel, Campbell Dickson, has this week unveiled an ambitious plan to regenerate Somerled Square in the heart of the Skye capital.

Mr Dickson has produced a model depicting a vision for the village centre which will go on public display from Thursday 19th at the Portree Hotel. 

He will also submit a planning application to Highland Council on the same day.

The plans, if realised, would see the village centre undergo a major change. 

The current car parking facilities would be transformed into a green space, with seating, which would be bordered on three sides by spaces for vehicles. 

Mr Dickson told the Free Press that he envisaged the area as somewhere which could be utilised for open-air functions while also being adaptable as indoor space through the use of a marquee.

Meanwhile, the taxi rank, which was moved to the area outside the Church of Scotland earlier this year to accommodate the Portree Hotel’s greenhouse-style outside seating area, would be relocated to one of the current bus lanes. 

A scaled model outlines the proposed changes to Portree’s village centre
Photo: Willie Urquhart WHFP

Other changes would include the installation of pre-built market stalls in the village square with provision for power, water and drainage; implementation of electric charging points for vehicles outside Portree Sheriff Court; a bike lock-up; and three pedestrian crossing points connecting the surrounding businesses to the square.

No costings for the proposals have been provided to the Free Press

Mr Dickson is spearheading a nine-member cohort called the Portree Village Improvement Group which includes staff from the Portree Hotel and the Granary plus other local businesses in the village.

He said the group’s proposals come in response to a damning town centre health check report published in 2018 by Highland Council.

Within the report, the council outlined a number of concerns about the state of the village such as: a lack of greenery within the square; a lack of cycling facilities; problems for pedestrians moving through the town centre; poor conditions of roads and pavements; and a sense of conflict between traffic and pedestrians. 

The group told the Free Press its desire was to work in full collaboration with Highland Council, the local trust, and all community groups in the area to bring forward simple proposals and solutions to care for the village, enhancing community lifestyles, visitor experiences, and further encouraging economic opportunities.

Mr Dickson said the group had not yet consulted with Highland Council, the Portree and Braes Community Trust or the Portree and Braes Community Council about the plans for the major redevelopment.

Portree and Braes Community Trust vice chair Ross Cowie said: “The trust welcomes the possibility of being involved in the group’s vision for the village in the future and looked forward to seeing the model and plans as soon as they were available to view.   

“To date, the trust had not been invited to comment.”

Mr Dickson told the Free Press: “Over the past decades there have been many discussions and plans to change Somerled Square, but not recently has there been an open and public discussion.

“We built a model that will be on display from next week to give one suggestion of what can be done, but more importantly it was built to inspire people to discuss the many ideas that are out there.

“The planning application that will be submitted next week was developed purely to force a formal discussion by the council, but more crucially to open up a formal consultation on the square’s future.

“We all want change in Portree, let’s actually have a proper consultation and get it done.” 

Skye Express manager Iain Cumming, who is a member of the improvement group, said: “Skye is apparently the second-most visited place in Scotland, and Portree is the heart and soul of Skye, and I think the centre of that hub should be a nice place where you can relax, unwind and make nice memories.

“It’s about bringing the community together. All we have is a grey concrete slab [the square] to look at, and seagulls trying to steal your chips. 

“We used to have street fairs, and a lot of activity going on, but the area just doesn’t allow for any community integration.

“There is no warmth about the place, but this model looks absolutely fantastic.” 

A Highland Council spokesman said: “These proposals are being brought forward by Mr Dickson and have had no formal involvement or endorsement from the council at this stage.  

“The council, in partnership with other key agencies and the community, is progressing the preparation of a Skye and Raasay plan, which will identify existing and suitable future projects across the whole area including Portree, and an update will be provided to the Skye and Raasay committee on 30th November.”