History is in the making as dozens of Highland communities start to see welcome cash injections thanks to the first ever pay-out by the coastal communities fund.
From harbour renovations, toilets and carparks to paths, playing fields and pontoons, groups have been awarded sums ranging from £5,000 to £100,000.
The new fund is derived from revenue generated by Scottish Government Crown Estate marine assets, with Highland being awarded more than £3m this time around- with another allocation due in October, and more to come each year.
So far £1.6m has been awarded to 42 projects across Sutherland, Skye and Lochaber, based on decisions made by local councillors.
The criteria for the funding is to support economic regeneration and sustainable development around coastal areas, with projects expected to prioritise economic recovery, community resilience, climate change mitigation and rural depopulation.
In the view of Highland economist Tony Mackay, the new funding could support and create jobs.
He said: “It is difficult to predict the economic benefits in advance but previous studies show that the total benefits could be double the initial expenditure.
“The fund’s £3.3 million could result in total local benefits of over £6 million.
“I expect the fund to help support 200-250 existing jobs and possibly create 25-30 new ones.”
He went on: “There has been very little investment in our coastal communities in recent years and tourism increased substantially until the coronavirus pandemic began a year ago.
“There is a great need for investments in the smaller harbours and related coastal community facilities, so this new fund is very welcome.
“Many of the communities have declining and ageing populations, so from the social perspective there could also be very welcome improvements in that regard.”
The highest area pay-out is to Sutherland, to the tune of more than £700,000.
It’s a welcome opportunity to get on a level playing field of community income for areas like north-west Sutherland, says development manager Helen Houston of Scourie Community Development Company. (SCDC)
SCDC has secured £80,000 from the fund for its Scourie Rocks project, a new exhibition and education centre for the world-famous collection of stones, minerals and fossils belonging to the Duke of Westminster’s family.
The company has secured planning permission for the centre, and is now some £18,000 short of the £118,000 it needs to get to the building warrant stage of its £3.4m project.
Mrs Houston said: “We’re delighted with the award, especially as last year the major funders like Heritage Lottery stopped funding new projects to ensure existing ones could be kept afloat.
“The way the coastal communities money has been awarded is really significant for areas like north-west Sutherland which don’t receive wind farm or Beatrice money, and don’t have common good funds like many on the east coast of Sutherland.
“This strategic decision making by the councillors gives us a chance to compete and will have significant long-term benefits for the communities.
“We’ll have a fighting chance of getting match-funding or total project funding much more easily, especially as the fund is ring-fenced and we don’t have to compete for it nationally.”
Other Sutherland areas awarded coastal communities cash include Assynt, Helmsdale, Clyne, Brora, Dornoch, Kinlochbervie, Skerray and Golspie.
Councillor Richard Gale, chairman of the Sutherland committee said: “The awards we were able to make will be of benefit to communities in Sutherland and will help to support tourism across the area.
“There are some exciting projects and I look forward to seeing each of these progress.”
More than £500,000 has been awarded to 17 projects in Skye and Raasay.
These range from £5,000 to Minginish Community Hall Association toward path and habitat improvement at the Fairy Pools, to £74,000 to Raasay Development Trust towards pontoons, toilet, laundry and waste facilities at the ferry terminal.
Skye and Raasay area committee chairman councillor John Gordon said: “This funding will make a huge difference for not only local people but in terms of supporting tourism in Skye and Raasay.
“This will be an annual application so we can empower communities in terms of how this money can be spent.
“As well as the good news about this funding it will give groups and communities a chance to think about what would help them in the future.
“This is a very good news story and just the kind of news everyone needs after coming through such a difficult year.”
Local councillor John Finlayson said: “Allocations were given to projects of all shapes and sizes which support the core criteria we agreed before applications came in namely: supporting economic recovery, community resilience, mitigating the impact of climate change and addressing the challenges of rural depopulation.
“This is an exciting day for a whole number of projects across the area and we look forward in the future to allocating more funds to well thought out projects which will improve the lives of those who live, work and visit Skye and Raasay.”
Eight projects share £432,000 in Lochaber, including Ardnamurchan Lighthouse Trust, Ardgour Path Network, Eigg Trading, Glencoe and Glen Etive Community Council, Isle of Canna, National Trust for Scotland and the Road to the Isles Facilities Group.