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Modern materials refused for Carbisdale Castle repairs

By Caroline McMorran

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SYHA chief executive Keith Legge — Conservation staff turned down requests.
SYHA chief executive Keith Legge — Conservation staff turned down requests.

The Scottish Youth Hostel Association (SYHA) has run the Category B listed castle, located near Ardgay, as a youth hostel since 1945 but was forced to close it down two years ago after it was severely damaged by water.

Since then, surveys have shown the building needs far more extensive work than was initially anticipated and costs have soared, with the total repair project estimated at £6million.

The castle annually attracted 20,000 visitors and its closure has been a serious economic blow for the Kyle of Sutherland area. Fears are growing that it may never re-open.

SYHA’s Board of Trustees is to make a final decision regarding its future next Easter.

SYHA chief executive Keith Legge updated Creich Community Council on the current situation at a meeting in Invershin Hall last week.

Constituency MP John Thurso and MSP Rob Gibson had been invited to the meeting but were unable to attend.

Mr Legge revealed that it had been hoped to make significant savings by using cheaper, modern building materials rather than heritage materials, but an appeal to the local authority had been rejected.

He said: “Highland conservation staff turned down requests from consultants acting on behalf of the association.”

He cited the costs of traditional lathe and plaster as a prohibitive £200 per square metre. And he pointed out that, although the building was the last baronial castle of its type, it was not considered to be of significant historical importance, other than to the local area.

Mr Legge said the 106-year-old building appeared to have been constructed using poor quality materials and to a low standard.

A survey undertaken following the discovery of the water damage showed much of the structure to be made of concrete and cast iron girders, now deemed to be dangerous and in need of replacement. Already £2million has been spent on repair work.

He said: “The north wing has now been secured and is wind and water tight, but two thirds of the building remains to be surveyed and it is anticipated that similar drastic repairs will be found to be essential throughout.”

Professional fundraisers are working on behalf of SYHA but have so far been largely unsuccessful in their approaches to organisations such as Historic Scotland and the Heritage Lottery Fund as well as private individuals.

Mr Legge said that if £2million could be found, that would enable the castle to be partly re-opened. He also revealed the castle had never paid its way as a hostel but had always been supported by other hostels and by the sale of assets.

Community councillors agreed at the meeting to lobby Highland Council for a relaxation of the conservation requirements.

A spokesperson for the local authority said: “Our conservation architect was last approached regarding Carbisdale Castle over a year ago, at which time she recommended carrying out localised repairs of the damaged area.”

A spokesperson for Historic Scotland said: “We recognise the value that Carbisdale has to the local economy and we hope to meet soon with relevant parties to discuss issues where we might be able to help. We have not received any requests to reconsider the listing of the building and have not commented on any proposals concerning repairs.

“As a category B listed building, it would be for Highland Council as planning authority to advise on works to the castle, not for Historic Scotland. We would become involved only if Highland Council was minded to approve a significant degree of change to the castle.”

As we went to press we received this statement from a Highland Council spokesperson: “We are willing to talk to the SYHA to resolve the issues and take things forward”

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