By Eilidh Whiteford
STORNOWAY Port Authority (SPA) are again under fire for not supporting the islands’ tourism industry with plans to demolish the former Stornoway Shellfish building to make way for an extended ferry traffic carpark.
The proposals have angered many who envisaged tourism and local economy boosting ideas for the empty premises.
Included is Andrew Ribbens, proprietor of the award-wining Hebridean Brewing Company, who submitted an application to lease the former food-processing outlet intending to develop the brewery through additions of a gift shop, tours and cafe/bar.
“The idea was to create a unique tourist opportunity for people to visit and tour the Western Isles’ only brewery,” he said. “I supply all the islands’ CalMac ferries with my ales, so the building is brilliantly positioned to attract tourists straight off the ferry and cruise-ships.
“Not only would it be an economical boost through tourism, but it would also have created around nine or ten jobs, rising to 18 or 20 in the summer months.
Mr Ribbens’ initial application was rejected – with the SPA Board citing that it did ‘not demonstrated a marine or harbour related use’ – and the building was offered in principle to local electrical company Point 1 Technologies Ltd, owned by Innes Macleod.
The lease was never signed however, resulting in the building remaining empty for over a year. And despite twice appealing the Board’s decision, Mr Ribbens’ proposal remained unaccepted.
A statement released by SPA in December 2009 stated the building’s demolition: “will give the Port Authority more operational flexibility to allow it to accommodate whatever the ultimate outcome of the ferry review is.”
Many in the wider community believe that better use could be made of the premises as they now stand, illustrated through a social website Facebook page – boasting to date over 60 members – campaigning for a Maritime Museum in Stornoway; along with calls for the building to be used as a winter home for the An Sulaire sgoth.
One supporter said: “It is well know that the heritage of our islands are deep rooted in the sea – this building would be ideal for a Maritime Museum to draw tourists and to serve a neglected chapter of the islands story.”
A warm, dry winter maintenance space for the An Sulaire sgoth has been a long-standing hope for the An Sulaire Trust, as member Amanda Darling said: “It’s vital that we find somewhere for the sgoth over winter as eventually the boat is just going to fall apart.
“ This building would be a perfect winter house, especially if converted into a Maritime Museum, as we could carry out the maintenance easily and indoors, attract more volunteers and give tourists the chance to explore this wonderful vessel.”
For the full story of the former Stornoway Shellfish building, see this week’s Stornoway Gazette,