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Coastal communities in Easter Ross explore sea of opportunities through £100,000 grant from new fund

Jock Mitchell, foreground, chairman of Inver and District community council, with secretary Barry Brice in Inver Bay celebrating the award of funds for new seating
Jock Mitchell, foreground, chairman of Inver and District community council, with secretary Barry Brice in Inver Bay celebrating the award of funds for new seating

Coastal communities are already welcoming the benefits of a dedicated fund designed to breathe new life into seaside spots.

Groups around Easter Ross have secured a combined £108,000 share of £3.3 million allocated to the Highlands as part of the Scotland-wide initiative.

Cash will flow into the Highlands annually from the coastal communities fund, which derives from Scotland’s Crown Estate revenue.

The money has been ploughed into new seating at Inver Bay, a feasibility study on the re-opening of Evanton Station, improving public toilets in Balintore, a viewing balcony for the Ross Sutherland rugby clubhouse and renovations at the historic Tain Picture House.

A little will go a long way, says Jock Mitchell of Inver and District community council, which has been awarded £4,000 for durable public benches for Inver Bay.

The six benches currently at the bay are worn out , with some now needing to be removed.

Mr Mitchell said: “It’s always a popular spot with locals and visitors stopping to enjoy the views and wildlife.

“We’ve been getting more visitors in recent years, and could possibly have more this year.

“The award means a lot to a little village like ours.”

The benches will look traditional, but will be made from durable, low maintenance plastic.

Mr Mitchell said a squad of volunteers are ready to help install them when they arrive, hopefully next month.

He said: “The benches will complement village plans to regenerate the nearby hall, creating a café and shop there, allowing people to flow from the area to sit and enjoy the bay.”

A further £5,000 has been awarded to HiTrans towards the £19,000 cost of a feasibility study for the re-opening of Evanton Station.

Kiltearn community council is also contributing £4,000 from its own coffers towards the research.

In normal times, 16 trains pass through Evanton each day, and locals reckon the village should operate as a “request halt” using modern technology to inform the driver.

Councillor Fiona Robertson, (from left) Kiltearn community council chairman Hector Munro, and councillor Mike Finlayson have been working towards the reopening of Evanton station. Kevin Glynn.

Councillor Mike Finlayson has been fighting for the station re-opening since 2017, and welcomed the award.

He said: “Our local survey in 2017 showed that more than 700 people indicated that, if it opened, they would use the facility.

“Evanton is a growing community especially since planning permission has been granted for two separate housing developments – so more choice of travel will greatly enhance lifestyles and opportunities.”

<br />Maureen Ross, a director of the Seaboard Memorial Hall which has been awarded funds to improve the public toilets in Balintore.

Just short of £24,000 was awarded to Seaboard Memorial Hall’s project, Conveniences for All.

The community took over the toilets in 2019 to save them from closure by the council, and keep open an important facility for the eight commercial vessels and many leisure boats which use Balintore Harbour.

Maureen Ross, a director of the hall said: “At long last we can now address the rundown sorrowful state of our harbour toilets.

“Funding has been a long time in coming but we are grateful to the Coastal Communities Fund for awarding us £23,980 to bring the toilets up to an acceptable standard by installing disabled access and toilets and give it a whole new face lift.

“The toilets are an essential facility at the harbour area which is used by locals and visitors alike.

“When there was talk of perhaps losing them the Seaboard Centre stepped in and entered into a Community Asset Transfer to take them into ownership from Highland Council and seek funding to have them renovated, it did take the best part of 4 years but we got there in the end – perseverance paid off.

“We would like to take the opportunity to thank local groups, businesses, Councillors and individuals who supported this project.  It is hoped that the project will start shortly and people can spend a penny soon in the newly refurbished facility”.

Tain Picture House is also benefiting from the fund, with £26,000 going towards installing a lift as part of ongoing efforts to return the former cinema to its past glory.

Ross Sutherland rugby club has been awarded £33,000 towards the cost of adding a viewing balcony to the clubhouse.

The club says it will help its economic recovery post-pandemic, with a knock-on effect for the local community and economy.

Cromarty Firth councillor Maxine Smith said £50,000 had come to her ward from the coastal communities fund and she will be lobbying for a larger share of the pie in future.

She said: “Invergordon has the most disruption from sea activity, plus we bring in plenty of income from oil rigs and ships anchoring in the firth.”

Who gets what is decided by Highland Council’s area committees.

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