There has been a lot of misleading information circulated regarding the Castle development but the proposal will most certainly contain a 4/ 5 star hotel development. Within that there will be the ability to create apartments on occasions such as weddings which would be particularly suitable for families. Other top hotels in Scotland offer such flexibility. The maximum number of apartments that would be in operation at any one time would be nine. Given the investment required from the operator plus ongoing lease commitments there would indeed be the need to charge a premium rent.
Finally, just to clarify, no decision has been made at this stage.
The issue of the frequency of sailings on the Stornoway to Ullapool route will be put onto the agenda of the next meeting of the Ferry Users’ Group on the 11th March in Stornoway.
I am aware of the concern amongst hauliers and the public at the number of cancellations there have been recently and now the loss, once again, of the Isle of Lewis, having just returned to service. I have asked that we discuss this with representatives of Caledonian MacBrayne at the next meeting of the Ferry Users’ Group which is meeting in Stornoway next month. We also wish to raise the issue of capacity on future services and timetabling of the new service. It is important for the public and businesses that we have maximum flexibility available through the new timetable but also adequate back up in the event of vessel failure.
After the Energy summit meeting held in Stornoway yesterday and the Steering Group meeting held this morning, I fully believe that momentum is now developing to get an interconnector established for the Western Isles.
The Summit, organised by the Scottish Government, brought together parties including the Department of Economy and Climate Change, electricity regulator OFGEM, National Grid, Renewable Developers, the Crown Estate, the Green Investment Bank and SHE-Transmission.
This is a an extremely complex process but I think that there is now more clarity amongst the interested parties in the stages that we still have to go through to get the interconnector in place, though it is clearly taking longer than anyone anticipated. We impressed upon SHE-Transmission the need to submit the needs case to OFGEM so that they can approve the go ahead for the interconnector. I would have liked to see a clearer commitment from SHE-Transmission as to when that will happen and then we need OFGEM to consider the needs case prudently but with minimum delay. However, everyone is now clear that the next move is up to SHE-Transmission and is agreed that this should happen as early as possible to facilitate the infrastructure that will be required to export renewable energy generated in the Islands and realise the potential that will bring to the economy of the islands.
I would like to congratulate the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award winners, The Mischa Macpherson Trio, consisting of Mischa, Conal McDonagh on pipes and whistles and Innes White on guitar.
This is a fantastic achievement by a very talented group of young musicians, all with Western Isles connections, and I congratulate them on behalf of the Comhairle. This is a prestigious award and it brings great credit to the group themselves and their musical and cultural heritage that they have achieved this success.
Last week the Comhairle set the budget for the new financial year. This was largely agreed last year and the service reductions and redesigns brought forward this year are not additional but part of that overall package. Whilst this has been extremely challenging and is only likely to continue in the years ahead, we have managed to protect services for the most vulnerable and continue to support the economy. We have also done this without job losses as far as possible.
The Comhairle continues to charge the lowest Council Tax in Scotland at £1024 for a Band D property
The financial package sees the retention of itinerant teachers for P4-P7 pupils in art, music and P.E. despite the financial pressures imposed by reduced funding from central government.
The Comhairle also put funding into trade union representation.
The Comhairle recognises the importance of jobs and we continue to support the local economy through initiaitves such as the Inter-islands Business Development scheme and the Fisheries Support scheme. I am pleased that the vast majority of the budget was supported by all members..
Over £70m in capital works is being invested over the next five years. This will include road, pavement and bridge improvements throughout the Western Isles, the development of Lews Castle and Museum nan Eilean, coast protection at Balivanich, new care and respite facilities to replace Ardseileach, the harbour development at Ardveenish in Barra, school improvements across the Islands and a new school in North Uist.
The Comhairle anticipates needing to make further savings in future years. This could be in the region of £9m over the next three years and will involve equally difficult choices.
Great news today that Trip Advisor, the international travel site, has officially acknowledged Lewis and Harris as the best island in Europe.
A recent survey showed that in the period between October 2012 to September 2013 218,000 people have visited our islands with 48% of them returning to the islands having previously enjoyed holidays in the Outer Hebrides. Our stunning beaches, our rich natural heritage, our archaeology (the list is endless) all attract people to the island.
Ranking Lewis and Harris at no. 1, placed us ahead of islands in Italy and Greece, and confirmed that Lewis and Harris is the most popular island destination in Europe.
Of course , we knew all this already.
An Our Islands Our Future Consultation meeting will take place in the Newton Centre, Seaforth Road, Stornoway at 7:30pm on Friday 7th of February.
As one of the three Island Councils in Scotland, we have laid out our vision for a stronger future following the Independence Referendum of 2014. We are calling for a commitment that whatever the outcome, the needs and status of island areas are clearly recognised in the new era for Scotland.
All are very welcome.
I would like to take the opportunity to thank Cllr. Archie Campbell, who has stepped down as Chair of the Sustainable Development Committee, for all his hard work. I have enjoyed working with Archie on Economic Development issues over the many years he has been in post. He is a hard working Councillor and has achieved a great deal over the years he has been a Committee Chair. Archie is well-known for his sense of humour and sharp wit during meetings. I’m sure he will continue to greatly contribute to the work of the Comhairle and in representing the people of the Beinn na Faoghla agus Uibhist a’ Tuath ward.
You may have seen an increasing amount of coverage on the Our Islands – Our Future campaign over the past few months and this trend is likely to continue in the lead up to the referendum in September. Have you taken an interest in the campaign and how it could benefit and improve the lives of all of us who live in the Western Isles? You may have questions you would like to ask, or maybe even some suggestions as to how we could develop our approach towards gaining more power locally. Next week’s meetings throughout the islands are an ideal opportunity for us to communicate and share our visions and expectations for the future, with the common goal of securing the best deal possible for our island communities.
I look forward to seeing you at the meetings throughout the islands in the coming week.
Venues and dates :- http://blogserver.cne-siar.gov.uk/wp-notices/?p=1098
Merry Christmas! Comhairle nan Eilean Siar wishes the community of the Western Isles a very Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.