Skye woman’s salon business dream in the balance

Emma and Angela MacDonald with Sileas Urquhart at the proposed beauty salon at Stormyhill in Portree.

A Skye woman hoping to realise her dream of opening her own beauty salon has said her long-held wish lies in the hands of Highland Council planners, who have already rejected the proposals once this year.

Angela MacDonald (27) from Portree had hoped that the business, which she plans to run with her younger sister, would have been in full swing by now following her family’s purchase of the former Stormyhill Stores building, near the village centre, just before the first lockdown in 2020.

However, her application, which also seeks to convert the upper floor of the building into permanent accommodation, was refused in March this year by local authority planners.

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Among their reasons they cited a failure to provide any on-site parking and turning space for occupants of the proposed residential unit.

Speaking to the Free Press this week after a second application was submitted to the council, Angela said: “It is quite disheartening because we have spent a lot of money on the building itself and we have taken courses over the lockdown period to gain more beauty qualifications.

“It is annoying that we have the building sitting empty and we can’t do anything with it just now.”

In addition to creating jobs for her and her 16-year-old sister Emma, Angela said the salon would also provide employment for another islander, 18-year-old Sileas Urquhart.

“It is something that is needed in Portree, and you have three young people, who are locals, trying to run a business and be successful,” Angela added. “I don’t understand why anyone would want to stop that. It doesn’t really make any sense to me.

“My sister would possibly move into the building to stay as I have a house with my wee girl who the salon would be named after. I wanted to call it EG Beauty as her name is Evie Grace.”

In its refusal of planning permission on 8th March 2021, the Highland Council’s area planning manager stated: “This (development) would inevitably result in on-street parking in front of the property. Such parking would create a road hazard given the property’s position close at the junctions of Stormy Hill Road with Coolin Drive and York Drive.

“Parked cars outside the building would reduce the visibility from these junctions and general road safety for other road users to an unacceptable degree.”

Countering the local authority’s judgement, Angela’s father David MacDonald, who is the applicant for the proposal, told the Free Press: “There is a parking facility there, which the planners would have seen had they decided to have a look.”

“Our intention was and is still to open a beauty salon for my two daughters, Angela and Emma, and to have a flat above it for one of them to live in. In a small way it would also free up accommodation for one house and at least someone would appreciate that.

“It has cost us an absolute fortune so far; thousands of pounds, because although we haven’t opened the business, we are still having to pay council tax, electricity bills and all the rest of it.”

He added: “I have been told that when Harry MacArthur ran the shop there could have been up to 100 people a day going in there, so what is the problem with having a beauty salon there?

“If the plan is rejected this time, we are going to shelve it and use it for Airbnb or something similar.

“That is not a threat, it is a fact. We just can’t keep going like this with all the money we are spending on it.”

Councillor John Gordon said he believed the decision was contrary to the council’s agenda to strengthen village centres and create sustainability.

“Imagine if in Academy Street or Union Street in Inverness a development was refused because of the lack of parking, it would be seen as a bizarre decision,” he said.

“There were no objections, and the plans were in keeping with the building.

“The decision angered me as it did not make sense. Stormyhill Stores has a special place in the lives of Portree residents, and the reality is there would be less footfall and traffic with the new owners’ proposals than when it was a shop.

“There was a real injustice with the outcome.”

Article by Adam Gordon, image by Willie Urquhart.