An urgent meeting is being held today (Thursday) between Comhairle Chief Executive Malcolm Burr and the Outer Hebrides Tourism Industry Association (OHTIA) in relation to plans for self catering apartments at Lews Castle.
The plans for self catering provision as revealed in the Stornoway Gazette (February 20th) have caused an outpouring of reaction from the local industry and as a result the OHTIA have now made a formal request for a meeting.
Although approached for a comment for the original article two weeks ago, the OHTIA declined but have this week outlined their position.
They wish to discuss with Mr Burr the future use of the upper floors of the castle ‘and the potential impacts, positive or negative, for the wider tourism economy’.
Ian Fordham, Chairman said: “ It is critically important that the council continues to engage with the OHTIA in a constructive manner and finds a solution to the current situation which is causing huge concern amongst tourism operators in the islands. We want to discuss the draft economic impact report, referred to by the council at our recent AGM, the options around maximising the economic benefit to the islands arising from the castle development, and the issues of displacement from existing businesses.”ù
In the coming week the OHTIA will be carrying out an independent online survey of tourism businesses in the Outer Hebrides, with local residents also getting a chance to respond, to ascertain the overall views towards the proposed development at the Castle. The OHTIA hopes that the council will support the questions posed in the survey, and that the council will commit to taking the results of the survey on board, when finalising the plans for the castle development.
Concerns about the plans were raised initially by self catering provider Graham Maclellan who has already set up his own website http://www.its-our-castle.co.uk/ through which he has received nearly 100 comments from accommodation providers and has had a big response to his online survey.
Those concerns arose after it was revealed that the preferred bidder for the project was looking to develop self catering apartments and not a luxury hotel as had been originally reported.
The Comhairle say they had sought a partner for a luxury four star hotel originally and although a preferred bidder was identified they eventually pulled out. In the next procurement exercise the hotel element was retained but operators were permitted to propose other high quality accommodation models.