Calanais charging ‘will help fund island heritage’
That is the view of Ian Fordham, who chairs Urras nan Tursachan which is putting together funding for a redeveloped £6.5 million centre to accommodate the growing number of visitors to the iconic Stones.
Mr Fordham said: “Recently, we have moved to a position with Historic Environment Scotland whereby they will recommend to Ministers that charging will be introduced. We are also discussing with them how revenue will be distributed.
“Historic Environment Scotland will be making a big investment in conservation of the site which will be supported by charging, but they are also very keen for Calanais to make a bigger contribution to the wider economy.
“It is important to us that a good share of the revenue comes to the Trust. Then the intention is for there to be a Fund for Heritage which would be able to support other heritage organisations so that charging will be important for heritage also.”
The Trust has made clear that local people will not be charged for access to the site and consultation is promised on how this will operate.
The Stones currently attract around 150,000 visitors a year with a third accessing the existing Centre. With increased tourism numbers this is expected to rise to 200,000.
Mr Fordham said: “The site will be unable to cope on an unplanned basis. With charging, it will be possible to manage visitor flows much
more carefully, for example by time ticketing, to ensure the site isn’t overwhelmed at any one time”.
The proposed centre will be linked to the nearby farmhouse. Mr Fordham said: “The centre is 28 years old and was a wonderful piece of investment at the time but is now behind where it needs to be. What was great 28 years ago isn’t adequate now”.
It is intended that the current building will be given over to a greatly enhanced interpretation centre; an extension will accommodate visiting parties and could be used as a social space for the community in the off-season, while the old farmhouse will provide café and retail space.
Trust director, Jacqui Ferguson, said hopes for a revamped centre had been developing over the past 15 years and were “closely interlinked with the community. For me, one of the most important aspects is to create sustainable jobs that people can build their lives around”.
She added: “The local community are 100 per cent behind this project and want it to be a success. One of the main reasons is the prospect of good quality jobs for young people that will allow them to stay on the island”.
It is expected the expanded Centre could provide around 23 full time equivalent jobs, compared to nine at present.
Ms Ferguson stressed that there will be full consultation on all aspects of the project, including charging, with two community engagement events to be held on October 9th and 10th and more to follow.
Archaeologist Dr Alison Sheridan, a UnT board member, endorsed the approach: “It’s already recognised that visitor footfall is damaging the monument. Part of the development of sustainable heritage tourism involves managing visitor numbers.This is something that can be done through charging”.