Old Man of Storr site options to be investigated as key contract awarded

STAFFIN Community Trust (SCT) has awarded a key contract which will assess the potential purchase and improvements of local authority-owned land at the Old Man of Storr.

SCT has appointed an experienced project team to investigate the Highland Council site at the hugely popular island landmark which attracts visitors from all over the world.

A consortium team led by Dingwall-based Athena Solutions, and partners Richard Heggie of Urban Animation and Sam Foster Architects, were successful in the tendering process and have now started work on an Options Appraisal of the 82-hectare roadside site, which includes a felled commercial forest.

The contract will review all the options at the location, with the estimated costs and community and economic benefit for each one investigated. That will include an assessment of the liabilities, maintenance, potential capital and running costs, etc. The local community has significant concerns about parking congestion and road safety at the site, which is off the A855 Portree-Staffin road, and the lack of toilets, which has sparked public health concerns.

The consultant team will present the options to the SCT board in September. The preferred option will be decided upon, and a Business Case will then be presented in October. The options include a proposed buy-out of all the land, a section of the ground or a lease/partnership arrangement withthe council. Following that process, SCT will then look to take the Business Case to the council. The community will be kept updated throughout the work.

SCT is grateful to have received funding from the council’s ward discretionary fund, Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and the Scottish Land Fund for the work.

Overflowing Storr car park.

Overflowing Storr car park.

The consultant team has recently worked on the proposed redevelopment of the Lochmaddy Hospital in South Uist and a major affordable housing development in Bowmore, Islay.

Hazel Allen, a director of Athena Solutions, said: “We are delighted to be appointed to work with SCT and the community on this landmark site. We appreciate the importance of this project to the community, and the need to find solutions to the issues identified by the recent community consultation and raised by stakeholders.”

Earlier this year SCT wrote to the council regarding the site at the Storr from the A855 roadside upwards and expressed its interest in purchasing the land. It followed a major community consultation in Staffin which strongly backed the SCT managing or purchasing the area. More than 85 per cent of the responders to the consultation, held last November, supported the SCT’s direct involvement at the site. SCT then held further talks with council officials, HIE and the Community Ownership Support Service. The SCT board came to the unanimous view that it is a hugely important project for the community in north-east Skye and the wider island and its key objectives of creating local employment, promoting Staffin more extensively and helping the local economy.

SCT has been in positive talks with the council’s development and infrastructure service since 2014 about the visitor experience at the Storr, which attracts thousands of people each year but experiences parking congestion and lacks amenities, such as toilets.The exact size of site which SCT would seek to purchase would be determined through the work of an options appraisal. That will see all the options reviewed, the estimated costs and community and economic benefit of each one investigated.

The Old Man of Storr.

The Old Man of Storr.

SCT issued consultation questionnaires in November 2015 to all households and businesses in the Staffin Community Council area, which includes residents at the Storr, and is home to more than 500 people.Each household received one survey and additional copies were provided on request. A total of 255 questionnaires were issued from week beginning November 9 2015. 140 surveys were returned, giving a 54.9 per cent response rate.

A 40-page report outlining the results was published on staffin-trust.co.ukThe SCT views the Storr as a key gateway to Staffin and vital economic driver for shops, cafes, accommodation providers and other businesses. More than 100,000 people visited the Storr last year. Council-led traffic surveys have estimated that approximately 70 per cent of Storr visitors continue north on the A855 road to Staffin.

SCT sees it as an opportunity for the local community to potentially create local employment and market Staffin and local businesses far more strongly. The project could involve a new off-road main car park, toilets, interpretation and refreshment kiosk/information point.