The person who runs one of Skye’s biggest hotels has said objections over a new seating area outside the premises are being led by egos while local jobs are at stake.
Campbell Dickson from the Portree Hotel is poised to open the outside seating area to customers this week but has come in for criticism in some quarters for not following due processes set out by the Highland Council.
Speaking to the Free Press this week, Mr Dickson contended his decision to construct eight greenhouse-type structures without planning consent was necessary to keep the hotel’s 95 staff members in employment.
The eight greenhouses – which measure two by two metres – have been constructed on a decking area – which is permitted – and will seat up to four people per unit with each fitted with fans, heaters, and lighting.
Mr Dickson said the impact of the lockdown on the business had been “cataclysmic”, and that £45,000 been spent on getting the premises ready for reopening – including costs of £7,000 on cleaning materials and hand sanitiser products.
Despite not having obtained permission for the construction of the greenhouses, Mr Dickson said he had spoken to Malcolm Macleod, the Highland Council’s Executive Chief Officer for Infrastructure and Environment on Tuesday, and that the council was “quite amenable” and wanted to come to a “constructive conclusion”.
“They said there would be no legal ramifications for opening the greenhouses now, and that they were going to work more constructively to find a solution,” he said.
The way the seating area has been developed has left a bad taste in the mouths of some people within the local community including taxi drivers whose rank has been subsumed by the decking area.
One local taxi driver, who wished to remain anonymous said that the drivers had no issue about moving to a new rank – located outside the Church of Scotland – and understood the need for the hotel to reopen. However, he argued that they had been left out of the loop and that the matter had been conducted in an underhanded way by Mr Dickson.
Speaking to the Free Press, Mr. Dickson said: “I approached the council at the start of April, many, many, moons ago, to try and do something in Portree – and that wasn’t just for me.
“I sent them a little blueprint with suggestions for the whole of Portree – there are about 15 to 20 businesses like the Portree Hotel that have no access to outside seating.
“I asked if there was anything that could be done for all of these businesses – including here at the Portree Hotel – and places such as the Isles Inn, The Tongadale, The Bosville, down the pier, Dan Corrigall’s place, Sea Breezes, and so on.
“I said is there any way we can work up a plan fairly quickly to get this done or to make this acceptable.
“In fairness, the council were very amenable to all of it, and still are, the only concern I have had was the time it was taking to come to fruition.”
Skye Councillor Calum Munro told the Free Press that the Highland Council had issued a temporary pavement permit to let the hotel make use of the area to build decking and a dining area.
Councillor Munro said an occasional license is required too but he couldn’t confirm whether it has been issued or not.
“I am aware concerns have been raised about the structures on the decking and officers of the council who were supporting Mr. Dickson and also members were not aware that these were being installed prior to them appearing and discussions are ongoing about this,” said Councillor Munro.
Commenting on the relocation of the taxi rank, Mr Dickson said: “I made a point of saying nothing to the taxis driver because I didn’t want them to misquote me and say ‘Campbell said we’re moving there.’
“I said absolutely nothing and they basically filled in the gaps.”
He added: “My daughter actually decided to explain what was happening as she had seen some negative comments on Facebook – and in response someone commented ‘Who the hell does he think he is? Telling the council where the taxis should go!’
“I mean the reaction was absolutely mind-blowing!”
Following the social media fallout, Mr Dickson sent an email to various businesses in Portree and to all the taxi drivers explaining the situation.
He added: “I felt I did everything right when I approached the council, I asked for an outside seating area for everyone that needed it and I also asked for a credible alternative site for the taxis – in fact, it is the very site they asked for themselves five years ago.
“I couple of taxis drivers have said they have no issues, but the people that don’t like me will just run with the story they want!”
Councillor Munro said: “It is my understanding that Mr Dickson has applied for planning permission for these structures and the community will be able to comment on them once his application has been published.
“The taxis have been relocated to the area in front of the Church of Scotland (five bays). Portree Hotel’s permission is temporary, therefore the location of the taxi rank will be reconsidered when the hotel’s permission expires.”
Mr Dickson added: “What I don’t understand is what is the downside to this? The public get somewhere to sit, and obviously our staff members keep a job they otherwise would have lost.
“There were 25 tables in the bar and restaurant and we’re now down to 12, and there’s no five-deep at the bar anymore – we have lost 65 per cent of our business inside, if I don’t compensate for that then I would have to lose jobs in the kitchen and out the front.
He went on to say: “If the only reason people are annoyed with what I have done is that I have disrespected the council in some way, then that’s a pretty poor reason. But then that’s all down to egos when it should be about businesses and jobs.
“I am genuinely shocked at the level of negativity towards this.”
Elsewhere, the Lower Deck restaurant is also adapting to the challenges faced by businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.
The seafront restaurant in Portree is utilising car park bays to provide an outdoor seating area that can accommodate four people to a table.
Lower Deck proprietor Dan Corrigall said: “If you look at Stuart (Jackson), who I lease the restaurant to – he had done a fair bit of work to the place including the floor – he did a lovely job. Now he hasn’t had income from here since last November.
“He opened for 10 days and then had to shut down again – we’re just trying to generate some money and hope the season will be extended.
“The council wants the seating down in October but it will take us three to four years to recover from this.”
*Campbell Dickson is the tenant of the Portree Hotel and not the owner as originally stated in this article. Punch Pubs and Co is the landlord of the hotel.