Humza Yousaf MSP, Scottish Government Minister for Transport and the Islands has commended the North Uist community’s efforts to acquire and redevelop two redundant buildings in Lochmaddy.
During his recent visit to Lochmaddy, he met with the chair of An Torc, Philip Harding, and fellow director, Alastair MacLeod who briefed the Minister on their plans.
The minister told members of the recently-incorporated community company An Torc Ltd, that they had pulled in an impressive range of support for their project.
“The fact that you are working closely with your key stakeholders, including Lews Castle College, Taigh Chearsabhagh, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, HIE , the Comhairle and North Uist Development Company adds a real strength to this project – one that we are keen to support in Government,” he said.
Mr Yousaf also described how the new community empowerment legislation has been developed to assist communities in driving forward strong projects which can demonstrate support in their localities and which have a strong economic viability.
“Empowering local communities is at the heart of what we want to achieve in places like North Uist,” he said.
“We don’t just want to devolve power to Stornoway, we want it to reach right down through the islands.
“That is why the projects An Torc are considering in Lochmaddy are so important, since they give local expression to what we want to help achieve across Scotland.”
Since incorporation early in the year with a strong board of local members, the company has been busy.
A Community Right to Buy application was approved by the Scottish Government in May.
This means that the owners of the Lochmaddy Hospital, one of the two buildings begin considered for redevelopment, must give the community first option to purchase the building, should they decide to sell.
The group has been in communication with the owners, an Aberdeen-based firm of property speculators, on a regular basis and is now confident of setting up the first face-to-face meeting with them very soon, supported by HIE, Community Land Scotland and Scottish Land & Estates.
Since its inception, the project has received support from two part-time NUDC development workers, funded through HIE’s Community Account Management programme.
“We are very grateful to the staff at the Community Right to Buy branch in Edinburgh for the support they unstintingly gave to the NUDC Local Development Officers, who have been assisting us with these matters,” said Mr Harding.
The economic viability of the project lies in the provision of student accommodation in Lochmaddy to enable Lews Castle College, through Taigh Chearsabhagh, to offer the full four year Fine Arts Degree, which it is currently unable to do, due to lack of accommodation and teaching space in the village.
The Hospital redevelopment is expected to be a project of more than £3m, creating employment and bringing up to 60 new people to the island, adding to the economic viability of the area and helping combat depopulation.
It is also expected that the project will include a number of additional services which will be of direct benefit to the community. Details of these will become clearer during the course of the Stage 2 Feasibility Study which is just getting under way, funded by the Comhairle and HIE.
It is also now hoped to bring the former Lochmaddy Primary School into the project to provide additional teaching space, complementing what is already on offer and established within Taigh Chearsabhagh.
An Torc is hoping to lease the building building from the Comhairle for an initial period. It is therefore the intention that the School, which closed this summer when the new Sgoil Uibhist a’ Tuath opened, will not stand unused for long.
The development workers are currently preparing a business plan for the operation of the School, which will go to the Comhairle before the end of the year.
“This is a project which some of us have been working on for many years,” says Alastair MacLeod.
“As somebody who grew up in Lochmaddy, it causes me great distress to see the former Hospital building, which has so much history in it and which means so much to the local community, standing empty, increasingly derelict and in a dangerous condition.
“So this means a great deal to us, and we were very grateful that Mr Yousaf made the time in his busy schedule in Uist to visit us, and it was great to hear the Scottish Government’s support for our project being so clearly expressed.”