Double boost for St Kilda project

Plans for a St Kilda Centre – Ionad Hiort – in the Uig area of Lewis have taken two important steps forward with the acquisition of the land required and also the positive conclusions of a consultants’ report on how the project can be delivered and sustained.

The landowners of the Geodha Sgoilt site, Uig and Hamnaway Estate, have gifted the spectacular cliff-top location to Ionad Hiort. The estate principal, Sir Peter Cresswell, has previously indicated full support for the project and detailed discussions between solicitors for both parties, which have been going on for some time, have now been concluded satisfactorily.

Subject to agreement on decrofting with Mangersta Common Grazings Committee, an outline planning application will be submitted in the near future.

With funding provided by HIE, the local group which has taken the project forward selected Andrew Ormston of Drew Wylie Ltd as the consultant to review its potential and advise on the next steps towards delivery. His very constructive report will now lead to more detailed work on the business case which will be presented to potential funders.

Mr Ormston said: “This is a really interesting project. Translating the most challenging strands, including World Heritage Site high value tourism, into tangible business propositions will create a unique opportunity to pioneer cutting-edge approaches and technologies. It is clear that the skills and enthusiasm exist locally to support that work”.

Iain Buchanan, chairman of Ionad Hiort Ltd, said: “It has always been clear that the local group on its own could not take on the burden of fund-raising on the scale required and that we would need external support to take Ionad Hiort from concept to execution. Andrew’s report has given us clear guidance on how this can be achieved.

“We have always known it would be a long haul to bring Ionad Hiort to fruition and believe its potential significance not just for Uig but the whole of the Western Isles will ultimately justify the effort. We are now seeing clear confirmation that others share our belief in the project and its transformational role”.

The concept of a St Kilda Centre was the subject of a competition initiated within the Western Isles in 2009 with the involvement of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, VisitScotland, the National Gaelic Arts Agency and the National Trust for Scotland.

Since then, both Historic Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage have also engaged positively with the project. UNESCO, which designates World Heritage Sites, have adopted it as a model for the development of ‘remote access’ to hundreds of World Heritage Sites which, for one reason or another, cannot physically be visited by large numbers of people.

However, until now, the burden of work in moving it forward has rested mainly within the local community itself. The development group, Buidheann Leasachaidh Ionad Hiort, has given rise to a company with charitable status, Ionad Hiort – itself a time-consuming process.

Mr Buchanan said: “A great deal of valuable work has been done to develop the concept of the centre, in parallel with the formalities involved in getting to this stage. We now see 2014 as a crucial year for bringing everyone together in support of what they all recognise as an iconic project of local, national and international significance.”