Highland Council has rejected a proposal to transfer land to a community group aiming to develop facilities at the Old Man of Storr.
Staffin Community Trust wants to buy roadside ground to build a new off-road car park, public toilets and interpretation facilities at the popular beauty spot.
The council had previously earmarked £400,000 of development funding for car park improvements at the site.
However, the trust wanted that money to be used to kick start an even bigger project – including much-needed toilets. They planned to seek match funding from a variety of sources to deliver a project estimated at up to £900,000.
In rejecting the request the council have said the transfer of £400,000 “would not be prudent” and “failed to protect the public interest” without clear evidence of match funding. They have suggested a lease agreement, covering the whole site owned by the Council at Storr Woodland, may have been a better alternative,
In their decision notice to the SCT the council also took issue with the plan to separate the car park area from the remainer of the wider site, suggesting this would “separate the revenue generating potential of the site from the burden of management and maintenance.” The SCT had proposed charging a fee to use any new car park.
The notice adds that sporting rights complicate the process. It states: “There is a requirement that within the land requested the sporting rights are transferred at no cost. This is not possible for the council to approve as they are held by Lord MacDonald, under a Sporting Lease by the Secretary of State for Scotland.”
SCT submitted an Asset Transfer Request to the council in March – the first in the Highlands under new Community Empowerment legislation.
A council statement said: “Highland Council has been working with the Staffin Community Trust towards significant visitor management improvements of the Council-owned site at the Storr for some time now. It was envisaged that improvements could be delivered through an innovative approach to working in partnership, enabling both to deliver more together than either could achieve alone.
“Despite having refused the Trust’s Asset Transfer Request in its current form, the Council remain optimistic that a partnership approach can still deliver the substantial improvements required at the site and have extended an invitation to continue dialogue with the Trust towards a solution.”
Eilean a’ Cheò Ward Members John Finlayson, John Gordon, Ronald MacDonald and Calum MacLeod have backed the decision taken by the council’s asset management project board on Tuesday of this week.
John Gordon said: “We are supportive of projects that help improve much needed infrastructure, for the benefit of local communities and improved visitor management. In relation to the specific request at the Storr, however, member support would require guarantees that this is delivered through a mechanism that does not separate any council capital investment and revenue generation from the responsibility of the management and maintenance of the council owned site in its entirety. Members would also require that it protects the wider public benefit and interest in perpetuity and protects the council’s financial interests.
“Members hope that a solution can be found that protects and enhances the natural heritage assets at this nationally important site while supporting economic benefits for the ward and beyond.”