The Staffin Slipway
Staffin’s harbour – known locally as “The Slip” – is regarded with great affection by the community’s residents, both past and present. The Slipway, built more than a century ago, was effectively a lifeline for generations of local people with essential supplies being delivered by boat. It was, and is, a source of fish and other seafood and the slipway area is a key recreational asset for Staffin’s community and visitors whether it is fishing, camping, walking or bird watching.
In September 2016 at its AGM, SCT welcomed fresh proposals for an organic fish processing development which could create significant employment opportunities and much-needed infrastructure investment. The improvement and redevelopment of the Staffin Slipway has been a priority of the local community for some time.
Basic amenities such as water, fuel and electricity cannot currently be accessed. There are no boat storage facilities, while increased shelter for vessels, and the ability to berth at all times of the day were frequently highlighted by local people and fishermen in public consultations run by the SCT. Potential marine tourism opportunities through the potential installation of pontoons were also identified.
SCT has worked hard to progress the community’s aspirations and secured funding for an engineering report which outlined several development options in 2012. SCT was unlikely to progress those options without a commercial partner.
In 2013, a company called Skye Sea Harvest Ltd (SSH) approached the SCT as it sought a suitable location for a seafood processing facility. After consulting again with the community the SCT agreed to work closely with the company and public agencies to try and deliver a transformational project at the Slipway which could have created a number of jobs.
That project has now been unfortunately shelved after a series of feasibility studies calculated the total investment required was more than £18million. Dredging costs in particular were higher than anticipated.
SSH has now returned with a revised fish production and processing development linked to the Slipway, which could help SCT in its efforts to secure investment in the Slipway. SSH directors Alex MacInnes, Robert Gray and Alister Mackinnon have formed a company called Organic Sea Harvest (OSH). Hugh Drever, who is chief operating officer of Villa Seafood, is the fourth OSH director.
The firm proposes to produce organic salmon at four fish farm sites in north Skye, including two at Invertote and Culnacnoc. The firm want to harvest 10,000 salmon per year using organic methods and create a number of jobs in the local community. OSH outlined the project at SCT’s AGM and has pledged to hold further consultation with the community in early 2017.
The fish would be processed and labelled at a building on land away from the Slipway but in the Staffin area.
SCT chairman Donald MacDonald said: “The Staffin Community Trust, working in partnership with Organic Sea Harvest, have continued to investigate new options for improvements to the community slipway whilst also identifying solutions that would bring additional social and economic benefits to north-east Skye.
“Earlier proposals, which included major infrastructure improvements, had challenged both parties due to the high capital costs. In discussion with public agencies it became apparent that a new approach was needed with alternative solutions to reduce the size and costs while retaining the desire to improve facilities and create much needed employment. At the recent AGM of Staffin Community Trust new innovative ideas were presented by Organic Sea Harvest to produce organic salmon for the Skye Sea Harvest processing unit to be situated within Staffin as part of this new chapter, which will now be investigated further through the partnership.
“The need to dredge the basin has been substantially reduced. These two key alterations will substantially reduce the costs while still allowing for significant improvements which will satisfy the needs of the community, open up marine tourism opportunities and allow Organic Sea Harvest and Skye Sea Harvest to operate their businesses.
“These proposals are at an early stage of development but both parties will continue to engage the community as things develop.”
The Congested Districts Board, which was set up by the UK Government to bring about major fishing and agriculture improvement to the crowded and poverty stricken communities in the Highlands and Islands, built the original Slip in the early 1900s. The stone slipway and a store was constructed by local men to allow freight to be delivered. Before its construction there was nowhere to store the cargo from the boats, which delivered supplies between Glasgow and the islands.
In 2000, HRH The Princess Royal opened the extended Highland Council-owned slip and a new breakwater. The improved slipway and access road was the SCT’s flagship project at a cost of £350,000, with the final £10,000 required remarkably raised in four short weeks by the community. Funding had been secured from various sources including the European Union.
However, the Slipway cannot be accessed for loading or unloading vessels at certain times of the day because of low tides. There is also a lack of amenities and facilities like water, fuel and power supplies or suitable berthing.
There is a very limited depth at low tides and most vessels would ground if left at the Slip during spring tides.
In 2011, an overwhelming desire to see improvements at the Slipway was pinpointed as the main priority for people living in Staffin, following a community survey. Local Slipway users are keen to see the breakwater extended to provide more water depth and increase protection for boats from waves. Money was secured and engineering firm Wallace Stone carried out a feasibility study, which identified options to provide shelter, increased berthing space and additional room to manoeuvre vessels.
The SCT viewed the project as key to increasing use of a popular marine hub and generate demand for on-shore support services like toilets and showers. Island businesses like hotels and restaurants could also be supplied with more seafood if local fishermen can land their catch at the Slip.
In mid-2013, a company called Skye Sea Harvest Ltd approached the SCT because it wanted a suitable location for a new and innovative seafood processing facility. After consulting with the community the SCT agreed to work closely with the company and public agencies to deliver a transformational project at the Staffin Slipway to deliver the processing facility and major improvements to the area.
Funding for the initial feasibility stage was provided by Skye Sea Harvest and matched by the European Fisheries Fund.
In 2014, contracts were awarded for several studies at the Slipway including marine engineer and road access, economic and environmental impact reports.
The marine and environmental reports can be read by clicking here: MARINE COMPLETE REPORT and here: EIA Final version A summary of the economic impact study is provided because commercial information restricts SCT from sharing the full contents of the report. The summary is here: Economic Impact Report
The funding of the development and setting out the project’s next steps will now be investigated by SCT, SSH and HIE before the Staffin community and all other relevant stakeholders are consulted again in 2016.