Visitors to a famous natural wonder on the Isle of Skye will find it easier to park and admire the Old Man of Storr.
Additional funding has been allocated and work is about to start to create an extra layby parking area for 20 cars on the A855 at the popular Old Man of Storr site.
These supplementary parking spaces are on top of the additional 60 parking spaces, along with a dedicated motor cycle parking area, which recently received planning permission as part of Phase 1 of improvement works. With the announcement of the additional 20 parking spaces on the south of the existing car park, once Phase 1 work is complete there will be parking for 142 vehicles.
As part of the improvement works the Highland Council will also address road safety issues through a scheme of signage and other road safety measures including the introduction of a 50mph speed order, speed activated variable message signage and painted directional arrows on the road, either side of each of the car park accesses.
A separate planning permission has also been granted for the construction of a new public toilet block that will include male/female/disabled and baby changing facilities within the building itself and a chemical toilet disposal facility adjacent to the main toilet block which will also help with another identified problem of a lack of disposal facilities for camper vans etc.
These projects have been made possible by the Council committing £363,571 of capital investment that has unlocked £200k of funding from LEADER and £300k of funding from the Rural Tourism and Infrastructure Fund.
The council are currently undertaking procurement through the Public Contract Scotland tender process and it is estimated that works for the car park and associated works will start on site by May 2019 with a 10-12 week delivery phase. The public toilets and associated works will follow on from the completion of the parking at the end of the main tourist season to avoid any major disruption and it is estimated that works will be complete by February 2020.
The layby being constructed under permitted development rights is expected to be completed by the end of March.
As phase 1 starts, a second phase of parking improvements is proposed. Although detailed designs have yet to be fully developed, the drawing submitted indicates an additional 44 spaces would be provided, bringing the final total up to 186 spaces. It is likely that the council would have to fully fund the capital investment required to develop phase 2 and the Development and Infrastructure Service are currently working up a business case to secure the funding required.
A Decriminalised Parking Enforcement Traffic Order statutory consultation process has been carried out for sites across Highland including at the Old Man of Storr. Should pay & display be introduced at the site through parking enforcement, the revenue generated could be used to support the business case that would release the capital required for the development of phase 2 parking.
Chair of the Isle of Skye & Raasay Area Committee, John Gordon, said: ‘By the council continuing to manage and own the land it currently holds at the Storr it has provided an opportunity to benefit the whole site, the visitor experience, the safety of all road users, the surrounding communities, the Ward and the Highland Council as a whole.
‘By demonstrating the revenue potential of the site, the council has been able to invest more capital than otherwise would have been available. My fellow ward councillors and I will continue to push for any revenue generated to be invested in managing and maintaining the site as a whole and that any revenue generated over and above that required should be invested to support infrastructure priorities across the Eilean a’ Cheo Ward.’
In 2018 the visitor numbers at the site were recorded as 206k, up 16% on the 2017 figures. Numbers at the site have grown steadily from 20k recorded at the start of the millennium to 62k in 2013 and then an incredible 233% increase over the next 5 years. This has been reflected across the Island, leading to the current infrastructure pressures.
Councillor John Finlayson, who also supported added: Gordon’s comments, added: ‘As the visitor numbers indicate the infrastructure pressures are being felt across our Ward and this significant investment of £863,571 is going to certainly improve the experience for visitors at the Old Man of Storr site.
‘I have been actively involved in discussions with officers about our ambitions for the Storr and infrastructure in general across the Ward and I am keen that the hard work that has gone into developing these projects supports our ambitions to improve infrastructure, visitor satisfaction and safety at this iconic site, whilst also generating income that we can re-invest in other projects in the Eilean a’ Cheὸ Ward.’
The Highland Council has invested in other iconic sites on the Isle of Skye including £100k at the Fairy pools which has helped unlock £200k of LEADER funds, £50k from Highlands and Islands Enterprise and £10k of community funds for the parking and £300k from RTIF Pilot fund for toilets.
At Neist Point £65k of investment from the council has helped unlock £100k from the RTIF pilot fund for parking while at Quiraing an investment of £95k has helped unlock £100k from SGRPID for parking.