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  • Assynt Development Trust

Achmelvich beach car park and toilets project

Project to improve Achmelvich Beach Car park, Toilets and Rangers Hut

In February 2021 the Trust was approached by Assynt Community Council (ACC) to see if a way could be found to improve the Highland Council (HC) owned car park and toilets at Achmelvich beach. The main problems with the site are quite clear:

  1. The Car park is too small, drainage is poor, the surface breaks up and pot holes, puddles and floods develop

  2. The Toilets are beyond their design life, are in very poor condition and are not fully accessible

  3. The Rangers Hut is in poor structural condition

The latest round of the Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund (RTIF) offered a design grant of up to £5,000 if Expressions of Interest (EOI) were submitted by early May. With this In mind a steering group was quickly established and met on site at the end of April to discuss a possible project and sought to find the best way forward; following this the Trust submitted the EOI by early May. By mid June HC Tourism informed the Trust that it had been awarded the grant to a maximum of £4,000 (reduced from £5k as interpretive facilities were deemed ineligible by RTIF). To top this up HC offered £3,500 from the Ward Discretionary Budget and other sources with £1,500 being offered by ACC. ADT agreed to support and lead the work for the study together with the grant and planning applications.

The Trust drafted an invitation to tender to firms of architects and business consultants who could produce a feasibility study which would lead to a full RTIF grant application together with a matching planning application by 10th September. The budget was £8,500 plus fees for other professions and planning costs. Around fifteen firms were approached and at the end of July the firm of Fraser Livingstone Architects, Community Enterprise and Liane Bauer Landscape Architects were appointed to carry out the work.

Highland Council own the 13.5 acre site as its predecessor acquired it from the Estate in 1974. All the land was ‘resumed’ (removed) from Common Grazings by the Scottish Land Court in 1972. The first car park and toilets were developed for the 1976-77 tourist season and included installation of a septic tank and pipeway for the effluent to the south east towards Loch Roe. The Trust obtained a copy of the 1974 disposition which showed the boundaries of the site although understanding the exact position on the ground is more of an art than a science!

After the consultants were appointed, there were several meetings with the Trust and the steering group some via Zoom and some at Achmelvich. A topographical survey was undertaken of the whole site which the architects used to draw up different plans. The initial ideas were discussed and the final plans emerged later after civil engineers evaluated the site. When the final plans were drawn up, the QS costed the proposals. Meanwhile a community consultation was undertaken via Survey Monkey alongside interviews with key stakeholders together with funding options and cash flow projections.

The key design features for the car park were – to double the number of spaces, introduce dedicated accessible spaces, have an Electric Vehicle charge point, keep the bins in the car park, allow a separate access to the Croft Road, maintain the emergency access to the Hostel, and most importantly have a durable surface which doesn’t flood. The toilets need to be built to a modern standard, be Covid compliant, accessible and have baby change facilities. For the structure the architects have designed an open airy building made of dowell laminated timber and a machair roof with the compartments and fittings being made of easy clean, durable stainless steel. There will be an outdoor cold-water shower to enable removal of salt & sand while adjacent to this there will be a replacement to the Rangers Hut built in similar style with an open courtyard around the building for additional interpretation. The buildings are all sited where the existing toilet is on a level platform, accessed by a ramp and steps.

Principal Consultation was held with the Highland Council Planning & Building Standards Office, whose David Borland reported that “The design and siting of the installation is certainly well considered and worthy of the surroundings. Expansion and formalisation of the car park is welcome as it the replacement of the existing facilities and on the basis of what you have provided, would receive officer support. I am not recommending any changes to the proposal and look forward to it coming in as an application”

The site is owned by HC so discussions have been held with HC amenities and car parks as well as the ward manager about its status and whether the best approach would be for HC or ADT to own and develop the site or whether a hybrid collaboration might be better. Some local people have said that they would like the community to acquire the site, raise the funding, develop the assets and then deliver services at the toilet and car park. Others are sceptical of this approach as it was felt the community may not wish to be responsible for the site long term while the council probably should be. The community consultation was quite clear that the majority wished the Council to continue to own and run the site. Early discussions with the council are that they are willing to discuss the project taking place as a collaboration with the Trust. Without the Trust taking the lead on the project, designing it and raising funds for it, it remains unlikely that HC would be able to invest in its assets in the same way.

The RTIF grant application and HC planning application were both submitted on 10th September. The cost of the design and evaluation project was just over £11k. Including 5% contingencies and 10% professional fees the QS has costed the project at £824k. If match funding can be obtained the project could proceed sometime in 2022 with completion being required before March 31st 2023.

The Trust has applied to RTIF for a maximum £375k grant and if successful we will seek match funding from other bodies for the balance. Our application will be considered by the RTIF decision-making panel at the end of October.

20th September 2021

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