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Support for scheme to redevelop John O'Groats

18 June 2010

by Bryan Nelson

A MULTI-million-pound scheme to redevelop John O’Groats received enthusiastic support when plans went on show to the public this week.

The proposals by Heritage Great Britain and Natural Retreats envisage the refurbishment of the existing John O’Groats House Hotel plus an extension which will include 19 high-quality self-catering apartments and an additional 23 lodges.

On June 16 and 17 a steady stream of visitors from John O’Groats and farther afield visited the exhibition in the community hall, taking the opportunity to view artistic sketches, talk to senior executives of Heritage Great Britain and Natural Retreats and also to leave feedback in a comment box.

Keith and Rosemary Muir, from Canisbay, a couple who ran the famous John O’Groats House Hotel in the 1980s, welcomed the initiative.

Mr Muir said: “I really like the fact that they are keeping part of the original hotel. I think it will be a great asset to the area. I am delighted to see something happening.”

Wick man Iain Banks, who called at the exhibition while returning from Orkney, said: “I am impressed. It appears to have been reasonably well researched. Rather than people go abroad, let’s get a nice, high-quality resort here at John O’Groats.

“This has been a long time in coming, but hopefully it will all come to fruition.”

Mr Banks, who used to live in John O’Groats, acknowledged that several ideas to redevelop the area had fallen by the wayside in the past. But he conceded that “this seems to be on a firmer footing and there seems to be a real will to go ahead rather than waiting for grants or public subsidies”.

Heather Manson, from John O’Groats, said: “I think this could really work. The self-catering apartments could be really good and I don’t think it would affect what is already here. It will keep people here for a little bit longer.”

A more sceptical view came from John O’Groats resident William Mackenzie. He said the plans were “nice” but added: “We have seen it all before. They will be lucky if they can fill all the chalets for 12 months of the year.”

Carol Gunn, head of transformational projects with Highlands and Islands Enterprise, who attended on both days, said: “We see this as a key project for tourism for the wider area.

“The feedback is overwhelmingly positive. Folk are really wanting something to happen and there is a willingness for something to happen to the hotel site.”

David Sutherland, ward manager with the Highland Council, also attended the public event. “It is looking very positive. I am hopeful that something will move this time,” he said.

Mr Sutherland, who stressed that the scheme would have to go through the planning process, added: “It is very easy to be sceptical and negative, but we need to be positive and actually support what the company is trying to do.”

Operated and managed by the Natural Retreats team, the proposed holiday properties would combine environmentally sustainable construction with cutting-edge design to encourage visitors to spend more time in the region.

A visitor centre is also planned, to encourage access across the site and into the wider area.

(John O’Groat Journal)

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