Communities across the Highlands were celebrating last night after an £8million funding bonanza was approved for more than 40 projects.
The cash will be used to breathe new life into some of the region’s most famous landmarks and visitor attractions.
Plans to revamp Inverness Castle will get a £200,000 boost, while £130,000 will be spent on Nairn High Street, and Chanonry Point at Fortrose will receive £425,000 to help attract more dolphin spotters.
A total of £530,000 will be spent improving the tourist experience at the iconic Old Man of Storr on Skye, a further £361,000 will go towards “visitor hubs” across Wester Ross, and Strathpeffer Spa Gardens will get £430,000.
Councillors approved the £8million capital investment programme at a meeting in Inverness.
The spending was agreed despite the local authority being in the middle of a battle to slash more than £40million from its revenue budget.
The new money will be allocated over the course of the next nine years – with £2.32million spent this year, and a then further £700,000 each year afterwards.
Inverness Townscape Heritage will receive £550,000, while £170,000 will be spent improving the road gateways into the Highland capital.
Inverness Central councillor Janet Campbell said: “We have a very rundown part of Inverness at Academy Street at the railway station and the main entrance to the Victorian Market, and a lot of work is to be undertaken there.
“A successful Highland is dependent on a successful Inverness city and this money will contribute greatly to the vitality of Inverness.
“If Inverness is thriving the whole of Highland thrives and I very much welcome this investment.”
However, the chairwoman of Fortrose and Rosemarkie Community Council, Libby Brown, said the £425,000 to improve the dolphin watching area at Chanonry Point was “excessive”.
She added: “It is the second most visited area in Scotland so it is important, but as a community council we felt it should be quite a natural look.
“We did feel there should be some improvements to the ground but I personally am extremely disappointed about the money that is being spent.
“I have for some time been trying to get them to do work to the road down to Chanonry Point which would improve road safety.
“I think what they are doing at the point is excessive. Something like having the bin lorries going down three or four times a week instead of twice would make a huge difference.”
The funding decision was made at yesterday’s planning, development and infrastructure committee in the Highland capital.
Other key projects identified include the allocation of £505,000 to replace the Coghill footbridge in Wick.
The money earmarked for Strathpeffer Spa Gardens will go towards upgrades to car parking facilities and replacing rustic fencing and improving path and handrails in the gardens.
Various town and countryside regeneration community initiatives will also benefit from £750,000 of funding, including those in Ardgay and Muir of Ord.
The £530,000 to support the Storr Woodland project on Skye will pay for the introduction of new toilet facilities, better parking and a refreshment kiosk.
Norma Young, chairwoman of Staffin Community Council, said: “I know that the community would welcome improved car parking facilities at Storr because there is considerable traffic there in the simmer months. It would help improve safety for visitors and pedestrians alike.
“Certainly Skye as a whole benefits hugely from so many visitors each year and any improvements that can draw in more people are very welcome.”
Councillor Audrey Sinclair, chairwoman of the planning, development and infrastructure committee, said: “The projects approved for investment support delivery of a wide range of ‘Highland First’ priorities.
“Particularly welcome is the increasing emphasis on a proactive approach to developing better ways to work with communities and the potential for delivery of significant benefits in remote rural locations.
“Proposals to capitalise on our superlative scenic heritage are welcome and this package of projects supports our tourist industry right across Highland.
“I look forward to following the development of some exciting new initiatives in the coming years.”