The Old Man of Storr is an internationally famous pinnacle which has featured in Hollywood blockbusters, television programmes, commercials and countless publications. It is also a major economic driver to the Isle of Skye and contributes an estimated £6million plus per annum to the island.
Like the Quiraing, another internationally known landmark and a key gateway into Staffin, it attracts huge numbers of people to Trotternish each year. Highland Council has visitor counters at the Storr and the number of people visiting the site is reaching unprecedented levels, back in 2000, there were 40,000 visitors, in 2016 that total had soared to 150,000. The Storr is a vital entry point to north-east Skye. It has been estimated that around 70 per cent of Storr visitors carry on north along the A855 road to experience Staffin, which is a huge percentage of potential trade given the huge footfall.
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, 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. In March 2017, SCT has formally submitted a bid to purchase local authority-owned land at the Old Man of Storr.
SCT lodged an Asset Transfer Request (ATR) to Highland Council for a section of roadside ground near the popular island landmark so it can construct a new car park, public toilets and interpretation. It comes after several years of talks between SCT and the council, a major community consultation (full report below) and the production of a site layout/business plan by a consultant team including an architect.
The local community has significant concerns about parking congestion and road safety at the busy site, which is off the A855 Portree-Staffin road, and the lack of toilets, which has sparked public health complaints. These concerns have been exacerbated because of the increasing numbers of visitors to the Storr
The ATR is understood to have been one of the first submitted in the Highlands following the introduction of new Community Empowerment legislation in January 2017 by the Scottish Government.
SCT is confident that the site plan, which includes the construction of a new car park with more than 100 spaces, public toilets, tree planting and interpretation will create employment (1.8 FTE per year) and a direct economic benefit to north-east Skye, and wider island. A fee for using the car park would be charged, a proposal which was supported by residents in the community consultation.
The SCT board views the purchase of the Storr site as hugely important and its key objectives of creating jobs, promoting Staffin more extensively and helping the local economy.
SCT has enjoyed a positive and collaborative relationship with the council since initial talks about the Storr began back in 2010. SCT’s board is grateful to the local authority for its willingness to work with the community to find a solution that could significantly enhance the visitor experience at the Storr, while acknowledging its own investment to improve the site in recent years. Staffin is an economically ‘fragile’ rural community and SCT is particularly keen to attract investment to preserve and promote heritage and protect the assets within the Trotternish landscape. The £668,000 investment by major funders like the Heritage Lottery Fund and Coastal Communities Fund in the Skye Ecomuseum II project – which includes a significant infrastructure investment – is a sign of confidence in the area’s appeal and SCT’s ability to deliver a project on this scale. http://staffin-trust.co.uk/skyes-eco-museum-ceumannan-ii-2
The council acknowledged the ATR on 6.3.17 and will respond by September 6 2017. The council has set aside £400,000 of development funding for car park improvements at the site, as approved by members of its Development and Infrastructure Committee in November last year.
If the ATR is granted, SCT will seek funding from a variety of sources to deliver the proposed site capital works, which are currently estimated at up to £900,000. The work may be carried out in phases but no decision has been made by SCT’s board until the council responds to the ATR.
SCT chairman Sandy Ogilvie said: “This an exciting and important step forward by the trust and comes after a lot of work in the last few years. The Storr is a world-renowned landmark but also a key gateway to our community. Ownership could secure a range of benefits for local people and businesses while enhancing the visitor experience.”
The bid to purchase the land follows following three years of work between the council and SCT and a major community consultation on the proposed project which was run in November 2015. SCT directors helped hand deliver surveys to Staffin households and businesses and 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 support for the other proposals at the Storr including a new main car park, public toilets, an 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 publication 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 to the council in purchasing the site in February 2016.
The exact size of site SCT is seeking to purchase was determined through the work of the options appraisal. It saw all the options reviewed, the estimated costs and community and economic benefit of each one investigated.
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. It was funded by the Scottish Land Fund, Highland Council and Highlands and Islands Enterprise – SCT is very grateful to all three bodies for their support.
The contract reviewed all the options at the location, with the estimated costs and community and economic benefit for each one investigated. That included an assessment of the liabilities, maintenance, potential capital and running costs, etc. The consultant team presented the options to the SCT board in October 2016. The preferred option – to purchase a section of the ground and seek match funding – if the council agreed to grant the allocated £400,000 to the site – was then developed further before being presented to the local authority for consideration.