Published: 16/06/2017 15:30 - Updated: 16/06/2017 15:35

Buy-out bid delayed by bad weather.

Cape Wrath lighthouse
Cape Wrath lighthouse

A gale-prone Sutherland village has been given a three month extension in its unusual bid to buy land in a bombing range - because of the weather!

The site near the famous lighthouse at Cape Wrath, mainland Britain’s most northerly point, is seen as vital to the neighbouring Durness community.

Recently the Scottish Land Fund (SLF) awarded £22,500 to a development group to work up a business plan and feasibility study so that locals at Durness - 10 miles away - can buy 111 acres of the cape from the Northern Lighthouse Board.

Durness Development Group (DDG) had hoped this month to submit an application to the SLF for the funds to purchase the only land the Ministry of Defence does not own at the cape, which for 120 days of the year is a bombing range.

But because the weather had been so bad for assessors to cross over the narrow Kyle of Durness in the early spring, the SLF has given the group a three month extension to come up with the crucial feasibility plan.

Meanwhile DDG has sent a survey to all the households in the village asking if they still support the buyout and what direction - from a list of options - it should take.

DDG chair Sarah Fuller said it was seeking backing from locals before pushing ahead with one of the country’s most unusual community buyouts.

"We want to gauge public opinion before moving forward to the purchase and development stage. We hope as many people as possible return the survey by the end of next week," she said.

"An architectural survey of the cape and buildings finally took place last month - after it was previously delayed by the weather - and the report is at last in the pipeline. The report is crucial to determining if we move on to the next stage at which the valuation will be fixed by the District Valuer."

Residents at Durness are mounting a community buyout under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003.

There was once a full-time community of around 35 people living on the Cape in the 1930s. Today it is just John Ure, who runs the cafe by the lighthouse.

At the centre of the unusual community buyout is just the 111 acres around Cape Wrath Lighthouse.

Four years ago the MoD was halted in its £58,000 purchase of the land from the NLB, which would have added to the 25,000 acres it already owns in the area.

The then First Minister Alex Salmond said: "If the community is able to go ahead and successfully purchase the land, it will secure a stronger local economy for the people of Durness and preserve one of Scotland’s iconic landscapes for generations to come.

"Put bluntly, we would see more benefits for the local area rather than more land for bombing - the principal use the rest of the cape is put to by the MoD."

The then Scottish Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse approved an application by DDG to register a community interest in the site.

It means that the community have to be given first option to buy if the NLB goes ahead with plans to sell the land.

Public toilets and a bunkhouse have been said to be the main priority for the area as well as looking after the unique site.

Because of the community’s interest, the MoD announced in 2014 that it had decided "not to proceed" with the purchase of land around the 400-feet high light, built in 1828 by Robert Louis Stevenson’s grandfather Robert.

However the military is increasing its use of Cape Wrath - with the recent installation of three new major gun battery sites.

However DDG said it believed the new gun emplacements would not pose a threat to its scheme to secure the area around the lighthouse.

The military usually shell from the land at the Faraid Head peninsula - opposite the cape at Durness - and often to Garvie Island.

A previous development plan by consultants commissioned by DDG said Cape Wrath currently attracts around 6,000 visitors each year and could manageably be increased to 10,000. The lighthouse could even be opened up to the public. The cape is estimated to be worth more than £600,000 to the nearby Durness economy.

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