Lews Castle proposals ‘more benefits than downsides’ says report

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A report, commissioned in light of recent concern over proposed plans for Lews Castle, has concluded the development is a good opportunity.

The study, commissioned by the Comhairle, aimed to look into island tourist accommodation stock following the proposal from Natural Retreats to develop self catering apartments at Lews Castle. It was previously widely believed the development was for a hotel.

The revelation that the castle would not be a hotel led to an emergency meeting between the Comhairle and the Outer Hebrides Tourism Industry Association (OHTIA). Many island based accommodation providers claimed the self catering market in the islands is already ‘saturated’.

This new independent report by the Tourism Resources Company, however, states the development offered by Natural Retreats, which is believed to be 26 rooms broken down into ‘hotel-type’ bedrooms with living and kitchen areas, would help tourism growth locally.

It concluded: “Tourism Resource Company are of the opinion that this is a very good opportunity for Stornoway, Lewis and the wider Islands.

“The attraction of a company with international growth aspirations is a coup and while there may be some short-term rebalancing impacts, we believe the Natural Retreats investment will deliver substantially more benefits than downsides.”

However island self catering provider Graham Mclellan, who was the first person to raise concerns about the Castle project, is still not convinced.

“It’s a rushed report, several times the authors refer to the time restraints they had to work to,” said Mr Mclellan. “They were under pressure to produce something and it’s not been done thoroughly.”

He said the introduction to the report notes that the authors themselves are unclear about what the proposal from Natural Retreats actually is,

He added: “The review of the current tourism industry in the islands is massively inaccurate and any conclusions drawn are immediately open to challenge.”

Meanwhile the Comhairle has welcomed the findings. A council spokesman said: “It should be noted that any decision to proceed will be dependent on securing funding for the development of the upper floors of the Castle (Phases 3 and 4). It is expected that the Comhairle will consider the full proposal later this year.”

The OHTIA plans to comment on the report after members have time to review it.