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Sub-heading: First minister gives pledge on Arran concerns
By Hugh Boag
The First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has vowed that Arran will not be left behind when the travel restrictions are lifted next month and Scotland reopens for business.
April 26 is the date most businesses on the island are aiming to reopen, the first day the island is expected to be able to welcome visitors back from across Scotland.
Already shops, restaurants, hotels, B&Bs and self-catering accommodation across the island are making preparations to reopen with many advertising for staff. The summer ferry timetable starts the same day, although restrictions will remain on passenger numbers.
Arran expects a bumper summer with bookings already pouring in for ‘staycation’ holidaymakers unable and unwilling to go abroad and despite most places missing out on Easter trade one of the first attractions to open will be the Isle by Wild playpark at Brodick Castle, which opens next Friday.
It is expected all parts of Scotland currently in level four, including Arran, would move down to a ‘modified’ level three on that date, moving to level two by mid-June with all restrictions lifted by the end of June.
However, there was concern that Arran could be left behind as the rest of Scotland opened up for business.
Arran MSP Kenneth Gibson this week took these concerns to the Scottish parliament where he asked the First Minister: ‘I have been contacted by Arran businesses that are keen, for community and economic reasons, for the island to stay within mainland Scotland’s rules and guidelines.
‘Can the First Minister confirm that, from April 2, non-essential travel within local authorities will apply to Arran, that Caledonian MacBrayne will be informed that there are no travel restrictions within North Ayrshire and that, from April 26, all conditions related to mainland Scotland will apply to Arran? The tourism economy depends on it.’
Ms Sturgeon replied: ‘I understand and appreciate Kenneth Gibson’s point, and we certainly take that issue very seriously. We have given a commitment to have discussions with our island communities about how best we ensure that the restrictions keep them safe from the virus and allow maximum benefit as we open up the economy.
‘I absolutely appreciate the point that has been made about making sure that Arran is on the same level of restrictions, so that there can be that freedom of movement and travel.
‘If that is the view of communities such as Arran, that is certainly the view that we will take as we come out of lockdown.’
Executive director of VisitArran Sheila Gilmore said: ‘Getting some clarity on opening up is absolutely fundamental, both for the economy – and for the Arran community. Everyone’s morale needs a boost.
‘Since October, Arran’s community and businesses have been impacted by ‘Scottish mainland’ restrictions, and when these are lifted, it’s only fair for socioeconomic reasons, that this is done in the same way on Arran.
‘It’s a balance – everything that impacts on the economy has an impact on our island community and vice versa.
‘It’s become very obvious how much the national economy is dependant on tourism – both primary and secondary, and this is the same for Arran.
‘Our supply chain on Arran plays a vital role, and many of the facilities that islanders enjoy might not be available if it were not for visitors supporting these businesses.
‘When businesses opened for three months last year, the community was reassured by the lack of Covid-19 due largely to the examples of the high safety and hygiene standards set by our businesses and island residents.
‘This will be equally important as we open up, employing staff and building on that local confidence.’
Mr Gibson added: ‘The first minister seemed pretty relaxed about the situation, making it clear that if that is the view on Arran, the Scottish government will act accordingly.
‘This will dispel any rumours that Arran will remain closed as the rest of Scotland reopens.
‘I am keen to see Arran’s economy thrive this summer, making the most of “staycations” to sustain island businesses and employment.’
Meanwhile, Arran’s biggest hotel complex Auchrannie also plans to reopen all accommodation, restaurants, leisure facilities – including pools, gym and Arran Adventure – and the Aspa from April 26.
Co-founder and managing director Linda Johnston said: ‘The whole team are very excited about getting back to work and looking forward to welcoming visitors and islanders back to the resort. Bookings are flooding in and we are confident of a strong recovery.
‘Arran is one of Scotland’s best loved destinations and its economy and infrastructure depends on tourism to survive.
‘The return of visitors should allow businesses to reopen and I’m sure Arran will have a busy season and successful relaunch although visitor numbers will be limited until physical distancing restrictions are relaxed for ferry travel.’
As mentioned earlier Brodick Castle and Country Park is also getting ready to fully reopen next month.
The Isle be Wild play park, tuck shop and toilet facilities will re-open on April 2, with the castle, shop and café reopening at the end of month. Arran Heritage Museum is also scheduled to reopen on Wednesday April 28.