Stornoway has taken a significant step forward as a ‘University Town’ this week with the news that plans for a new accommodation centre for 49 people have been drawn up for the old Stag Bakery site at Bayhead.
This new development will add to the current student accommodation available at the town’s Bridge Centre.
Lews Castle College Principal, Mr Iain Macmillan, said: “This is one of the most exciting developments for the Western Isles in many years and demonstrates that when both local and regional partners work together there are mutual benefits for the whole island economy.
“We are confident that the new facilities will help to boost the local economy and help us to develop the college and university and achieve our objective of encouraging more people to come to our islands to live, work, study and carry out research.
He added: “We are committed to help to build capacity and confidence in the local economy and to reverse the out-migration trends from the islands that have become the norm. Amongst the ways of achieving this is by making more people aware of what our islands have to offer.”
The college has been keen to develop a new accommodation centre for some time, with the idea first being highlighted in the Gazette at the end of December.
The central location of the former bakery site is considered ideal due to the number of facilities within minutes, including the college campus itself, as well as local shops, bowling and golf clubs, football and rugby pitches, Stornoway Harbour with opportunities to join canoeing, sailing and sea angling clubs, tennis, badminton and other sports facilities at the Bridge Centre, Lews Castle Grounds – with its extensive range of walks, cycle paths and Woodlands Centre restaurant - as well as the other town amenities a short walk away.
“Stornoway offers an impressive range of social, recreational and sporting facilities.
“When you then add the rivers, beaches, hills and moorland that are easily accessible in the rest of Lewis and Harris we can offer students an excellent and safe environment in which to learn and grow,” continued Mr Macmillan.
As for the benefits to the community he highlighted: “An influx of new students will enhance the membership of local groups and clubs, particularly those related to sports and recreation.
“I am sure that they would find a warm welcome in the town and island and that they will be a great boost to both the economy and community.
“We have an excellent opportunity to develop the University town for the benefit of the islands.”
The planning application for the development has been submitted by Cityheart Consultants and it is hoped work on the building’s construction will begin in ???? with completion expected by August 2017.
Talking about the new initiative, Comhairle nan Eilean Council Leader, Angus Campbell, said: “Our council and local partners are committed to work together to build on the facilities available locally to attract people to study, train, live and work in our islands and the new accommodation helps us all to build on the theme of “Stornoway – a University Town”.
“The other facilities which the University and Lews Castle College continue to expand throughout our islands will also help us to support the development of the local economy.”
With the new facilities taking student accommodation to more than 70 units the benefits to the wider economy are clear.
Stornoway (South) Councillor Charlie Nicolson, commented: “This new development will inject new life into the town and complement the previous investment the College and UHI have invested in the campus buildings, which they have built throughout the Islands, and the facilities at the Bridge Centre in Stornoway.
“These modern facilities will bring the number of student facilities available in Stornoway to over 70 places – which by any measurement is very significant to both the economic and educational development of Stornoway and our Islands.”
News of the planning application for the new accommodation centre is just one step to persuading students and innovators to choose to study and work in the Western Isles.
In the current session the college has more than 90 students from outwith the Western Isles registered on courses.
However the college are also keen to develop new specialised degrees for 2016 which will add to the town’s ability to attract the brightest and the best from around the country and internationally.