Highland Council will be removing a “vital asset” for the community if shop units in Dunvegan are converted to housing, it was claimed this week.
The comments made by local community council chairman John Laing were echoed by shop owner Richard Powell, who alongside his wife Sandra runs the only business currently occupying the retail spaces.
The Powells have run the Hebridean Alpaca Company for five years, selling accessories made from alpaca fibre taken from their small breeding herd based in Glendale.
Mr Powell said: “There are five shop units with houses below — all of which are owned by the Highland Council.
“At this time last year all of the units were full, and for various reasons other tenants then left.
“We assumed that they would be taken on fairly quickly because we had a number of people coming and asking us ‘who do we speak to about these units?’ — and so we passed them on to Highland Council.”
Mr Powell said interested parties had been told the shop units were going to be turned into housing.
He added: “There was a group of local women who create their own jewellery and they wanted to take on a unit between them and sell locally-made products.
“Another woman wanted to run a beauty-style business in one half and cafe in the other, and there was someone else who was looking to sell Scottish foods.
“They were the three that I remember but there may have been others who went to the council about it.
“The problem is once the council says no then these people go away and try to do something else. The man who wanted to sell Scottish foods decided to sell online — he had been put off really.”
DCC chair John Laing told the Free Press that a recent survey within the community showed support for maintaining the shop units and felt that with some imagination the spaces could become used again.
“We are aware of the crucial need for additional housing in our area,” he added.
“However, we feel, along with many members of the public as evidenced by a poll we carried out, that we want to retain the shops. 67 per cent wanted to retain them as shops, while 37 per cent were in favour of them being converted to housing.
“The current situation has not helped the viability of the shops but this will not last forever and by closing the shops the council will be removing a vital commercial asset for Dunvegan, given that we have one of the busiest tourist attractions in the Highlands.
“We have asked for full community consultation before any final decision is made.”
Highland Council told the Free Press that conversion of the units to housing is “being considered” but pledged that wider engagement would take place between the council, Dunvegan Community Council and the community in early 2021.