Setting course for Harris and Scalpay pontoon project

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A joint venture aims to see new pontoon facilities in Tarbert and Scalpay which will join a route of new pontoon developments throughout the length of the Western Isles.

Recent developments have also brought new facilities to marinas in Stornoway and Lochmaddy.

The Tarbert and Scalpay pontoons will between them offer almost as many berths as Stornoway, and are unique in that they work in tandem.

Located just three miles apart, the Tarbert pontoons can be used when weather exposes Scalpay to north westerly winds, and Scalpay can be used when Tarbert facilities are exposed to south-easterlies.

Harris Development Limited are heading up the project, and are currently in the process of finding funding, with planning applications having been submitted to the Comhairle.

Gordon Macdonald of HDL said: “It’s a great project I think and it will have a big impact on tourism and the local economy. We’re very optimistic and we’re excited about it.”

The estimated cost of the project is £1.3m, and currently around 30% of this funding is still needed. A community and local agency steering group are driving the project forward.

The proposals are not yet fully developed in detail, but there are big plans ahead.

There could be scope for boats to be stored on land; a facility that could attract a lot of use over the winter seasons.

There is the also the opportunity for marine entrepreneurs to set up business, providing wildlife cruises to the Shiants, sea angling and diving.

Mr Macdonald continued: “The growth of marine tourism in the north west has been quite dramatic.

“Waters in the north west are a premium sailing destination, not only in Britain, but in Europe.

“If you look at the nationalities of the boats that are docking in marinas now they come from all over and tend to be bigger. Anything that draws people to the Western Isles in that way is great.

“A significant section of the cruise operators are using smaller ships and are going to more diverse locations.

“Tarbert has major attractions in terms of shops, restaurants and the distillery and Harris Tweed shop. The area of ground where the pontoons come ashore is quite restricted in terms of building development, but there are already facilities like the leisure centre that can accommodate people. Scalpay has more scope in terms of area availability and already has a successful harbour restaurant and shop.”

He added: “The sailing community is not homogenous. There are some people who favour quieter anchorages and some who search for more built-up ports with facilities.”