A potential £7 million transformation of an abandoned hospital and surrounding site could inject new life into the local economy and could bring about an instant population rise - if plans go ahead for a community purchase.
The former Lochmaddy Hospital on North Uist has lain empty for nearly 15 years since it closed with the loss of 30 jobs back in 2000 and has been in private ownership since 2008.
Now the community are hoping to purchase the building and plot to create a thriving multi-use site which could include student accommodation, business units, a campsite and a renewables project.
The Lochmaddy Hospital Redevelopment Steering Group (LHRSG) was set up last year as a result of community consultation and they are about to appoint consultants to carry an initial study looking at the economic feasibility of a community purchase.
Philip Harding, Chair of LHRSG said: “This is a £6 to £7million project so it is quite significant. It is an 8.6 acre site and we have also registered an interest with the Comhairle in acquiring Lochmaddy School when in closes 2016 and to keep it in educational use.”
The creation of student accommodation is one of the key options on the table and has the potential to double the current student population of the island as Mr Harding added: “There is a huge need for student accommodation here.”
He explained that they had already had talks with UHI who had outlined their aim to increase the number of Art students on courses in conjunction with Taigh Chearsabhagh in Lochmaddy from 25 to around 60-75.
“Potentially there could be a 5% increase in population in North Uist,” he said.
“If the old hospital couldn’t be adapted, we could look at a building specially built for student accommodation and possibly single parent students and mature students could be accommodated in the old building.”
Sabhal Mòr Ostaig have also indicated that they would consider using the accommodation outwith term time to bring their short course Gaelic learners to North Uist. If the two colleges were to use any accommodation developed, there is the potential to have it occupied for between 42 and 46 weeks in the year.
Alastair Macleod, Development Officer at North Uist Development Company, who came up with the original concept, said the plans had huge potential to benefit the whole island: “The original project was just going to be a Lochmaddy project but this has now become a North Uist project. We are working with the community. We don’t want it to be just for the students that come to use it, we want there to be movement between all sections of the community.”
He added: “The fact that we are looking at a sustainable future for it, with art students and summer students we are looking at 46 weeks of 52 year already. Also there is the employment that would be created which would be year round jobs.”
He added:“When tourists are arriving here there is nothing for them and we send them off somewhere else. We can provide something when they are on our doorstep.”
Another sustainable part of any future project could be the creation of green energy. This could be utilised on site and Mr Harding added there had already been interest from other agencies such as the Scottish Court Service who run Lochmaddy Courthouse nearby.
The LHRSG are currently in the process of going out to tender for the first stage of the feasibility study with the deadline being next week. They have also held discussions with Highlands and Islands Enterprise.
Alastair concluded: “There is so much history attached to Lochmaddy Hospital, my mother used to work there and many people have a lot of memories of it. and people would love to see something happening there again.”
The building was originally built as a Poorhouse in 1882 serving the majority of the Western Isles and was later used as a hospital for North Uist.