Two prominent UK tourism businesses are joining forces to lead the way with a multi-million pound plan to revitalise one of Scotland's best known destinations, John O'Groats.
Following public consultation and the production of a Masterplan, commissioned by Highlands and Island Enterprise (HIE), Heritage Great Britain has revised its development plans for the iconic landmark. The company has formed a new joint venture with luxury short break specialist Natural Retreats and together the companies have drawn up a vision for John O'Groats which they will be presenting to the local community for the first time tonight (Wednesday).
The proposal is for the refurbishment and extension of the existing hotel, an exclusive leisure development of luxury self catering lodges and a visitor centre to encourage access across the site and into the wider area. Operated and managed by the highly successful 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.
Ian McKee is the project manager with GLM Architects working with Natural Retreats on the John O'Groats project. The company was involved in re-developing the exclusive celebrity haunt, Ackergill Tower in Wick twenty years ago. “Ackergill Tower had fabulous potential but it had fallen into disrepair. At the time the then owner John Banister described the building as a sort of 'Marie Celeste'. You could well describe John O'Groats today as something of a ghost ship but with similar potential to create a really brilliant development,” he commented.
Chief Executive of Heritage Great Britain, Allan Leech, said: “We have listened to the community and responded with a solution which we believe would deliver long-term social, economic and employment benefits that the region deserves, while addressing concerns expressed during a number of meetings with local groups and residents. We have been impressed with Natural Retreats as a company and feel confident that by joining forces on this project the first phase will set the standard for the new John O'Groats visitor experience.
“We are still in discussions with various people regarding other areas of the site,” adds Mr Leech, “These include the provision of retail units which will be considered on their own individual merits and will be subject to consultation when the time comes.”
Carol Gunn of HIE welcomed the partnership's commitment to the project. “We are delighted that Heritage Great Britain, which is such a pivotal part of the future of John O'Groats, is actively driving forward plans to revitalise the tourist offering there. The opportunities which redevelopment of this site will create will have a long-lasting impact on local people, businesses and tourists. HIE is delighted to have played a part in helping draw up a blueprint to stimulate interest and debate on what is needed.”
One of the benefits of the Natural Retreats model is that the company plans to create high quality self catering accommodation. It is anticipated that this will create additional business opportunities for existing and new provision of food and drink to cater for guests.
Public consultation regarding the Natural Retreats proposal is expected to take place in March 2010, prior to the submission of any formal planning application.