Plans to build a new 40-bedroom hotel on the outskirts of Lochcarron will corporatise the North Coast 500 and threaten small businesses prospering from the route’s growth in popularity, it was claimed this week.
A local campaign of opposition is underway after it emerged that an area of community-owned woodland had been earmarked for sale for a major new leisure and hotel development.
The plans have been submitted by private investors backed by the real estate giants Bell Ingram under the company name, Bealach Limited.
The Free Press has been told the firm may also be eyeing up a further two sites on the NC500 route to house sister developments to the Lochcarron project.
The new development in the Kirkton Woodland is described as a ‘bespoke 40-bed hotel with restaurant and bar, providing accommodation and facilities for outdoor activity holidays.’
Bell Ingram’s application adds: “The site is owned by the Lochcarron Community Development Trust who are willing to sell the land for the proposed use.”
The 92-hectare site, situated north of the village of Lochcarron, was sold by the Forestry Commission to the Lochcarron Community Development Company as a community asset. The purchase was made utilising Scottish Land Fund and National Lottery funding following a successful community ballot in 2011.
An access and recreation plan for the woodland, drawn up in 2016, includes replanting native species, footpaths, allotments, events space, and wood fuel processing plant.
However, business owners in the district fear that selling off a parcel of the land for a hotel project on this scale will run counter to the aims of community development.
One of them, Alasdair Macdonald, runs the Albatross Café at Lochcarron Golf Club and is currently pursuing plans to convert the former village butcher’s shop into a bistro.
He said: “The NC500 has revived the community, and we are seeing younger families starting to settle and run businesses here.
“But it’s fragile. Something on this scale could pose a major threat. I have put every penny I have into the business, so we are worried.”
Andrew MacKenzie, who runs a bed and breakfast and has two holiday chalets at his home, said the proposed hotel’s 40 rooms would double the village’s current bed-space.
“They’ll be offering food, drink, and activities – all the trade could go.
“In the off-season especially, a company on that scale will be able to undercut on price.”
Like many areas of the west coast the communities of Lochcarron, Strathcarron and Kishorn are ageing, but there have been recent signs of encouragement – with the local school roll seeing a spike this year thanks to a bumper intake of primary one pupils.
Andrew Mackenzie reckoned that of Lochcarron primary’s 52 pupils, 41 had parents who owe at least part of their living to the tourism and hospitality industry.
He added: “B and B and self-catering have become a lifeline here, particularly for young mothers as there is no childcare in the area.”
This week the Free Press contacted both the chair and the development officer for the LCDC, though neither responded with a comment.
Article by Keith MacKenzie, image by Willie Urquhart.