A prominent Ross-shire bakery is pleading for Highland Council and the local community council to re-think a development project they fear could kill off their business.
The Bad Girl Bakery in Muir of Ord has already endured a torrid time during the pandemic.
Now it faces losing a chunk of the space it has been using for outdoor seating as part of a £190,000 regeneration project for the village.
Owners Douglas and Jeni Hardie are seeking urgent action from the council and the community council to halt plans which are due to get underway next week.
The regeneration project will see the council-owned village square repaved and parking reconfigured to create an additional community space.
Funds were secured from the Scottish Government town centre regeneration fund, with the proposed plan put forward by Muir of Ord Community Council on the back of a survey of locals.
The project will be delivered by Highland Council on the community council’s behalf.
However, bakery bosses have said the proposed plans do not satisfy the views of the majority, and have said any attempts to address their concerns with the community council have fallen on deaf ears.
They fear losing the area, which they partly use for outdoor seating and houses just over 40% of their current capacity, could spell the end for them after 14 months of disruption.
‘It could be an amazing legacy for the community council’
Mrs Hardie said: “We have a huge amount of respect for the people who have worked hard to get this money.
“We are for regeneration, and for us it has never been a case of us or them.
“From our point of view, there is a solution and a compromise on the table that as far as we can understand gives everyone – the community council, local businesses and the people who have responded to the survey – what they want.
It wouldn’t take much to turn this really awful situation around.
– Jeni Hardie
“It could be an amazing legacy for the community council and with a tiny bit of compromise it could be something that can be celebrated and that the community council can take great pride in for all the hard work they have done.
“It wouldn’t take much to turn this really awful situation around and into something really positive.”
Work is due to begin on Monday and will last approximately 10 weeks – a revelation Bad Girl Bakery claims only came to light last week.
Sad to think that is 9 days until The Square is dug up, and we lose the space for seating that’s been a lifeline to us through COVID. You can’t say it isn’t popular. @_KateForbes @MareeToddMSP @HighlandCouncil @scotfoodjames @HecMackenzie @juliabryce92 @Beckled pic.twitter.com/vlgYoXddjE
— Bad Girl Bakery (@bad_girl_bakery) May 15, 2021
Loss of seating could be ‘final nail in the coffin’
Mrs Hardie added: “I would like the council to step in and help us broker a compromise that makes everybody, including the community council, happy.
“I feel that even just halting the work on Monday would be a start to buy some time.
“We have been devastated by Covid and this could close us. We have been trading around three or four months out of 12 this year and that has been mostly takeaway only with limited seating.
“We need a good summer to get our heads above water.
“We have fully adapted because of Covid; we introduced our deli range, we made a bigger savoury range – we have worked hard to fight the impact of Covid and we are working hard to try and get through this, but this could be the final nail in the coffin.
“We are really proud to be here and we want to be part of the village and community and work with local people for longer to come.
“It is really heart-breaking that a decision made by the community council could be the thing that does this.”
‘Please stop and think about this’
Mr Hardie added: “Absolutely no one is going to say no to regeneration.
“There are all sorts of things that need to be desperately done in Muir of Ord and something that everybody is behind would definitely be to the benefit.
“Every time there has been an opportunity to feedback on plans about the square, the response has been remarkably consistent. Everyone seems to want a bigger space for people to engage, and yet every time a plan is produced, it reduces that space and that doesn’t make sense for us.
“Speaking as Bad Girl Bakery, we would like them to delay the work if nothing else to give us a chance this summer, and speaking as villagers, the whole thing needs rethinking.
“I feel Covid has taken our survivability down to a knife edge, and we are thankful we are still here which sadly a lot of people can’t say, but we need compromise.
“I would urge the community council – please stop and think about this.”
‘The last thing we want to see’
Frances MacGruer, chairwoman of Muir of Ord Community Council, said a local business going under is the “last thing we want to see”.
She said: “We understand that there are concerns for the recovery of local businesses after the pandemic and the last thing we want so see is the village take a step backwards.
“Highland councillors and officials have been fully supportive of the community council and what we are doing.
“I appreciate the timing of work is not ideal with it being over summer but we are duty bound by time constraints due to the grant funding.
“The last thing that we want is a divide and we hope this will benefit all the people of Muir of Ord.”
A little good news in these unprecedented times. Muir of Ord Community Council has been granted £190,000 to re-generate…
Local representatives call for constructive talks
Bad Girl Bakery has approached Highland Council and local politicians seeking urgent intervention to aid their recovery.
Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP Kate Forbes said: “Regeneration and financial investment should be a cause for local celebration, and so it’s really unfortunate that there isn’t unanimous support for these plans.
“I would strongly encourage all sides to come together and consider a compromise option.
“There is nothing to be gained from persevering with a proposal that does not have local support.
“Businesses have been through an impossibly difficult time, and all our efforts should be focused on helping revitalise High Streets and village squares across the country.
“This is a substantial sum of money and it’s not too late to consider a compromise which has local backing and transforms the square for the better.”
A Highland Council spokesman said: “We can confirm that The Highland Council’s chief executive has received communication regarding the works at Muir of Ord and will reply direct to the correspondent.”