New project aims to aid islands recovery

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North Ayrshire Council is poised to collaborate with the Scottish government and Highland and Islands Enterprise on an exciting project which aims to breathe new life into its island communities.

The innovative scheme, approved by councillors at a recent cabinet meeting, will see the three organisations join forces to trial new ways of working in partnership with island communities and businesses on both Arran and Cumbrae, to support the implementation of the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018 and the National Islands Plan, whilst supporting green economic recovery in light of Covid-19.

While both islands are popular with visitors for their natural beauty, islanders are faced with the challenges of geographical remoteness, poor connectivity and other demographic issues.

The challenges faced by Arran and Cumbrae residents have been particularly highlighted in recent months during the Covid-19 public health crisis, with both communities heavily reliant on ferry crossings and tourism which have been badly affected.

The Islands Recovery and Renewal pilot project will aim to support an inclusive and green economic recovery and renewal of both island communities in line with their specific needs.

A key part of the pilot will also be to strengthen the island voice and work with national and local government to ensure islanders are at the heart of any new approach.

The total proposed cost of the project is £250,000 which will be co-funded by the Scottish government, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and North Ayrshire Council, which will contribute £130,000 towards the pilot.

Councillor Alex Gallagher, cabinet member for post-Covid renewal and the islands, said: ‘Covid has really highlighted the unique issues facing our island communities and how fragile their economies are, even compared to North Ayrshire or Scotland as a whole.

‘Both Arran and Cumbrae have been hit disproportionately hard by the pandemic having to cope with reduced ferry capacity for the transportation of goods, services and visitors, and accessing essential services.

‘The drop-off in visitor numbers has been particularly challenging, with tourism playing a huge part of the island economies.

‘I am determined that we will work with our island communities to deliver the services they need. That’s why, over the course of the past few months, we have worked closely with the island communities to support their recovery and renewal, and identify targeted support measures.

‘This pilot project will take us on the next step of that journey to help the economies of Arran and Cumbrae find a new, long-term sustainable way forward.’

The Islands Recovery and Renewal pilot project will see focused resources put in place to trial new ways of local government, community planning partners, national government and government agencies working in partnership with island communities and businesses to support the implementation of the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018 and the National Islands Plan.

The aim will be to tackle long-standing issues relating to island communities including economic activity and resilience, demographics, health and wellbeing, education and skills, housing, transport, digital connectivity, fuel poverty, human rights, and climate change and biodiversity.

The project will be aligned to the delivery of Community Wealth Building and will enable actions from the Tourism Taskforce to be delivered at a local level. It will also promote the Scottish Rural Network at a local level, with a view to elevating rural policy and good practice on both island communities, and rural mainland communities.

Specific focus would be given to support the recovery and renewal of the islands from the social and economic impact of Covid-19, and to maximise the support available for island communities.

Consultation has taken place with local stakeholders, community representatives and businesses on each island including the Arran Locality Partnership, the Arran Recovery Group and Cumbrae representatives.