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Asset transfer will boost north-west community’s development plans

Willie Jack, Chairman of the Assynt Development Trust outside the Mission Hall in Lochinver, Sutherland.
Willie Jack, Chairman of the Assynt Development Trust outside the Mission Hall in Lochinver, Sutherland.

A north west village is celebrating a community asset transfer which will enable it to unlock funds for its ambitious development plans.

Lochinver Mission Centre, a former Deep Sea Fisherman’s Mission, is currently owned and run by Assynt Development Trust (ADT), but the land it occupies was owned by the council and leased to ADT on a fifty year basis.

The asset transfer, agreed by councillors on Wednesday, will see the title to the land transferred to the community, which has been running the centre since 2011.

The mission closed in 2009, and to save a valued building, the community went on to raise £600,000 from the National Lottery and Highlands and Islands Enterprise to refurbish the building, creating community-owned café and 14-bed bunkhouse, with offices currently occupied by ADT, Connect Assynt, and a High Life Highland countryside ranger.

The café and bunkhouse, known as An Cala, have been run in partnership with Julia and Jason Wilson since 2015, employing up to 10 people.

ADT chairman Willie Jack said the trust now owning the land completes the circle.

He said: “Despite the fifty year lease that was very affordable at £1 a year, we still had to ask the council for any changes we wanted to make.

“We’ll still have to apply to planning of course, but now the community can decide how it wants to run things without having to gain consent from the local authority all the time.

“Because the council is based in Inverness, local people are better able to make decisions for our local and community assets here.”

Full ownership of the building and land will help ADT to leverage funds for its next multi-million pound project- the construction of up to 15 affordable homes in the village.

Mr Jack said: “We will learn next week whether that Scottish Land Fund will support us to buy the former Church of Scotland Assynt glebe land.

“We think we can build affordable housing on a suitable section of that land, with other parts possibly suitable for all abilities paths and connections with Lochinver primary school.

“Owning the freehold of a building allows us to leverage that building for better community use, even if it involves necessary borrowing.”

Meanwhile councillors also agreed the sale of the community centre car park in Corpach to Kilmallie Community Centre (KCC) for £7,500.

KCC wants to install paint recycling facilities, waste and water facilities for tourists, and charging points for electric vehicles.

The council will retain rights of access for recycling facilities.

The terms also stipulate that Kilmallie Community Centre will continue to make the car park available free for public parking.

Councillors also agreed to include another car park land at Spean Bridge Community Centre to be transferred to Spean Bridge Community Centre.

Communities and Place committee chairman councillor Allan Henderson said: “Successful community asset transfers are great news for our local communities and the Highland Council remains committed even in these difficult times to facilitate applications.

“Community asset transfers contribute to one of the council’s key strategic priorities which aims to encourage community led and run services involving more people in local decision making.”

Community asset transfer requests can be made under the Community Empowerment Act.

Details on community asset transfers in Highland and how to apply for them can be found on the council’s website or via email.

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