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.

SCT has recently welcomed fresh proposals for an organic salmon development which could create significant employment opportunities and much-needed infrastructure investment. http://staffin-trust.co.uk/proposed-new-organic-fish-farms-in-staffin  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 have also been identified by the community.

Organic Sea Harvest’s (OSH) plans for organic salmon farms in Culnacnoc and Invertote, which are currently being considered for planning permission by Highland Council, plus another two further north, could help SCT in its efforts to secure significant investment in the Slipway. The Scottish Government has targets to grow the marine tourism economy and a site like Staffin could be a location which could benefit from a potential funding boost.

OSH’s directors include Alex MacInnes, Robert Gray and Alister Mackinnon who have strong links to Staffin and the West Highlands. Hugh Drever, who is chief operating officer of Villa Seafood, is the fourth OSH director and hails from Orkney. 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 held a well-attended consultation in event in the Kilmartin Restaurant in February 2017.

To demonstrate its commitment to the community, OSH has agreed to make annual payments to the SCT, of 5 pence per kilo of fish landed at the Staffin Slipway, which would see an average of £140,000 being made available to this community annually. SCT would like to utilise this pledge to try and secure long-awaited improvements to the Slipway for local users, private businesses and visitors. 

Boat at slip-3HISTORY OF THE SLIP

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.

Staffin Slipway.

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 (SSH) 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 SSH and matched by the European Fisheries Fund.

In 2014/15, several key feasibility studies at the Slipway including marine engineer and road access, economic and environmental impact work was carried out. However, the estimated cost of dredging the area to give the required water depth and the significant need for armour rock saw the estimated price of the development increase to an unsurmountable level. That saw the project shelved. However, several of the OSH directors were also directors of SSH and the firm returned to the community in 2016 with its organic salmon fish farms’ proposal. SCT is now keen to use this opportunity to secure much needed investment in the Slipway.