The team behind plans for an ambitious new St Kilda visitor centre in Uig has admitted that scaling back plans could be the only way to get the delayed project off the ground – 10 years after the idea was first publicly aired.
Speaking ahead of a documentary to be broadcast on BBC Alba on Tuesday, 3 March chairman and director of Ionad Hiort Ltd Iain Buchanan reportedly said: "I believe passionately in the concept designs for the St Kilda Centre, but I also realise this project was never going to be straightforward."
The planning team believe that a phased approach could make it easier to attract funding for the project at a difficult time.
Norwegian architects Reiulf Ramstad have been engaged to work up designs for the centre, working with Skye and Glasgow-based Dualchas architects. They’ve come up with a phased approach which could allow some aspects of the proposed visitor centre to be built initially, with more following at future dates.
In-principle planning permission for a first phase visitor centre was granted by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar in June last year. At that time Iain Buchanan said: “This is an important milestone which has involved a great deal of preparatory work. It will give confidence to potential funders with whom discussions are continuing. We should know by late autumn whether our first round of funding applications are successful.”
The first phase offers a ‘remote access’ visitor experience with a year-round research centre, toilets, parking and improved road access. It is anticipated that the next planning phase will include walkways, trails and viewpoints to explore the external environment.
But plans for continued development including construction in 2017 and official opening in 2018 have since stalled. A community consultation carried out among residents of Uig has not been published and there’s been no further report on progress since June 2019.
Ionad Hiort was initially scheduled to open to the public at a site called Geodha Sgoilt, Mangersta, in 2018. The site was gifted by Uig and Hamnaway Estate in 2012 and passed into the ownership of the St Kilda Centre in 2015.
The plan for the centre was first proposed in 2010, when agencies including Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Visit Scotland and the National Trust for Scotland promoted a competition to identify a location for a St Kilda Centre.
The Mangersta site was chosen over two alternative proposed sites in Harris and North Uist. It is intended that, through the project, visitors will be able to experience the drama of St Kilda without physically visiting the famous archipelago, which lies over 50 miles to the southwest.