The Old Man of Storr is a world-famous landmark which has featured in Hollywood blockbusters, television programmes, commercials and countless publications.
Like the Quiraing, another internationally known landmark and a key gateway into Staffin, it attracts attracts huge numbers of people each year. Highland Council has had visitor counters at the Storr for 15 years and in 2009 63,000 people visited the location, with the annual total never dropping below 50,000 visitors. Those annual totals have since soared with the Staffin Community Trust’s successful heritage and footpath project Ceumannan encouraging people to visit the Taobh Sear.
SCT views the Storr as a vital entry point and economic driver to the community. It has been estimated that around 70 per cent of Storr visitors carry on north along the A855 to visit Staffin, a huge percentage of potential trade given the huge footfall up the Storr.
However, the sheer number of visitors has sparked mounting safety concerns locally about the parking problems at the Storr with the limited space resulting in vehicles being left on verges and straddling both sides of the main road. There is also a lack of basic amenities at the Storr like toilets.
The council has indicated it is committed to working with the SCT to deliver improvements and enhance the visitor experience at the Storr, in full consultation with the Staffin community. To that end, following 18 months of talks between the council and SCT, a major community consultation on the proposed project was run in November 2015. SCT directors helped hand deliver surveys to Staffin households and businesses and have now published the results in a 40-page report, which can be read, here… SCT Storr Community Consultation Report docx.
SCT was delighted that 140 surveys were returned, giving an excellent 54.9% response rate and was hugely encouraged by the response to the key survey question on whether there was community support for the SCT managing and/or purchasing all or part of the Storr site. That saw 85.6% reply “Yes”. The report also outlines the majority community support for the other proposals at the Storr including a new main car park, public toilets, a refreshment kiosk/information point and improved signage and interpretation.
SCT views the project as a “fantastic opportunity” for the community to have a direct involvement at the site, potentially creating local employment and marketing Staffin and local businesses far more strongly. Following the publicattion of the consultation report, SCT held further talks with the council and its advisers Highlands and Islands Enterprise 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 subsequently declared an interest in purchasing the site and also made an expression of interest to the Scottish Land Fund.
The exact size of site which SCT would seek to purchase would be determined through the work of an options appraisal. That work will see all the options reviewed, the estimated costs and community and economic benefit of each one investigated. SCT has sought funding for the appraisal from the council and HIE. It is hoped that the work will start in May and be completed in autumn. SCT will continue to keep the local community and other stakeholders fully informed throughout the process.
In June 2016, following a tendering process, SCT appointed a consortium team led by Dingwall-based Athena Solutions, and partners Richard Heggie of Urban Animation and Sam Foster Architects, to carry out the Options Appraisal.
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, a lease/partnership arrangement with the council or to do nothing. Following that process, SCT will then look to take the business case for the most suitable option to the council. The community will be kept fully updated throughout the work and invited to participate in consultation events.