Community show their backing for hotel buyout

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By Hugh Boag

Widespread support for a community buyout of the Lochranza Hotel was demonstrated at a public meeting last Saturday.

At a well-attended gathering last Saturday in Lochranza and Catacol village hall, a show of hands among the 75-strong attendance on whether to take the proposal forward had almost unanimous support.

The public meeting had been called by Lochranza and Catacol Community Association (LCCA).

The Lochranza Hotel, the last remaining hotel in the village, is currently closed and on the market for £420,000. It is feared its loss would help turn Lochranza into a dying village.

There is also concern other measures need to be taken to address the ageing population – 69 of the 120 population are over 70 – and affordable housing is required to attract younger people and families to stay. Communication with the mainland, given there is just one ferry service a day in winter to Tarbert, is a real issue in the village and these issues were also addressed.

The meeting was attended by Arran MSP Kenneth Gibson, who made a five hour round trip to be there. North Ayrshire Councillor Ellen McMaster was the only one of the three Arran representatives to attend

The main topic up for debate was the community buyout of the hotel with chairman Ken Thorburn quick to dispel rumours that anyone interested would have to help fund the project or pull pints behind the bar.

He said the meeting had been called after the strong response the association had received from a circulated email on the hotel buyout. Around 200 emails were sent out and approximately 30 per cent, or 70 individuals, returned their email with a positive response.

Mr Thorburn told the meeting: ‘During the time between the email circulation and today’s meeting, the committee has been talking to funding bodies and one group in particular which has arranged a similar buyout.

He told the meeting £750,000 was estimated to be required at this time as a fair amount of work was required in the hotel, but he said:  ‘As we are all aware, the hotel/pub is at the heart of the village. Without the hotel as a focal point, this will be a serious blow to the future viability of the village. The current owner of the hotel is fully aware of the plan we are discussing today and gives us his full support.

‘While it is not the intention that the LCCA committee takes this forward, we would like a steering group to be formed, with a constitution and bank account as a first step in moving the proposal forward.’

Mr Thorburn confirmed the association had been in touch with the Knoydart Foundation which, through a organisation called the Development Trust Association Scotland (DTAS), had obtained funding to buy the Old Forge Inn and other amenities on the remote peninsula in the far north west of Scotland.

He said the Knoydart Foundation’s operations manager, Craig Dunn, thought the LCCA should think bigger than just the hotel and consider buying the entire village.

Mr Thorburn continued: ‘It will be necessary for the steering committee, once constituted, to produce a business plan. Again, with the help of DTAS, this business plan will form an essential part of the submission to potential funders.

‘I have been made aware of a number of funders which are keen to help communities like ours and have been told, for example, that the Scottish Land Fund annual budget is £10 million. Other potential funders are Crown Estates, Lottery, Community Housing Trust and Community Land Scotland.’

Several members of the audience intimated they were interested in joining the steering committee and this will be taken forward in the coming days. It was also the general consensus that while the community would buy the premises, it would be leased to professional hospitality people to run.

Drawing the meeting to a close, Mr Thorburn said: ‘I think here has been a pretty positive response.’

Earlier, the chairman said that coupled with this initiative the committee was actively trying to progress economic housing and the meeting heard from representatives from the distillery, outdoor centre and the campsite over the the challenges of hiring and retaining staff because of the housing crisis in the village.

Mr Thorburn said: ‘The distillery and outdoor centre are desperate for housing in the village for staff as currently most of the staff have to travel from other parts of the island. Furthermore, an economic housing plan for the village would also attract younger families and secure a viable future for the village.’

Arran MSP Kenneth Gibson said that 37 per cent, or 59 properties, in Lochranza were second homes and there were four empty properties. He said North Ayrshire Council had compulsory purchase powers which they could use to help the housing situation.

Mr Thorburn also told the meeting there are ongoing discusssions with CalMac to try and secure an enhanced winter ferry service from Lochranza to Tarbert, with an early morning sailing from Lochranza and a return sailing in the afternoon.