Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (CnES) must halt any proposals to demolish the old Co-op building in Castlebay until a full, open, public consultation is carried out, says Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant.
CnES favour demolition and maintain this is the preferred wish of the community, referring to a decision which CnES says was made by the local community council several years ago.
The present tenants of the building, community producers Buth Bharraigh, however, say it is very definitely not the wish of the community and have conducted their own survey that appears to bear out this view.
Buth Bharraigh recently won the Scottish Rural Parliament Rural Innovators Award 2016 for best business; the Rural Business Awards for 2016 prize for Britain’s Best Community Project and is shortlisted for the Rural Community Ownership Award in London on 28 November. They were also finalists in the Independent Food & Drink retailer of the year category of the Highlands and Islands Food & Drink Awards 2016 last month.
Of the 222 responses that were returned to Buth Bharraigh, 182 were in favour of the Buth being given an option to buy the building from CnES; 31 thought CnES should go ahead with their plans to demolish; and nine respondents had suggested other options.
A consultation conducted by CnES in 2012, said to have been advertised in the local weekly community newspaper Guth Bharraidh, is understood to have gleaned only 15 responses.
Rhoda Grant has said on Facebook; “Both my colleague, David Stewart, and myself have made repeated representation to CnES over recent months.
“CnES acknowledges that the community is split on the matter and it is only right and proper therefore that proposals to demolish the building should be halted to allow a full, open, public consultation to be carried out to gauge the present feeling within the community.
“Many within the community feel that this is about more than just one shop, that the building is a valuable community asset and if it is demolished a valuable asset will be lost. Many want it retained for future generations, albeit with some modification.
“The building is set to be demolished as part of a Regeneration Capital Grant Fund application but it is believed the demolition of the building would contravene both the Grant Fund’s aims and objectives and the aims and objectives of the Outer Hebrides Community Planning Partnership’s Economic Strategy.
“I facilitated a meeting between Buth Bharraigh, CnES and local representatives in August this year and it is true that a small proportion of the population do want the building demolished, mainly for personal and aesthetic reasons. However, this does not seem to be the view of the wider public.
“The Castlebay Regeneration Charrette Report is also supportive of the Buth remaining in its present location.”
The present tenants of the building want to proceed with their request to buy the building from CnES – discussions which were under way at the time that the Council decided to demolish it – and Buth Bharraigh have commissioned an architect to draw up plans for its refurbishment.
The award winning Buth Bharraigh sells a range of locally produced goods and is a tremendous example of a community enterprise benefiting a whole community, with its business model now set to be replicated very shortly in South Uist.
They have extensive development plans and are eager to remain in their present high profile position in Castlebay.
Rhoda Grant said: “I believe therefore the only way to settle this ongoing dispute is to put it to the community and I have requested that CnES do this now.”