BOLD plans for a community buyout of Urquhart Castle visitor centre overlooking Loch Ness – which could generate millions of pounds for the local economy – will be discussed at a public meeting next week.
The site, visited by almost half a million people last year, making it one of Scotland’s most popular tourist attractions, is operated by the government agency Historic Environment Scotland (HES).
But a community group believes the tourist attraction could generate much-needed funds for local projects ranging from road improvements to supporting a childcare centre if it was run by locals.
It wants to explore the possibility of using community asset transfer legislation to acquire the visitor centre, car park and land along with the neighbouring tourist information centre and Loch Ness Homes parkland.
The Glen Urquhart Rural Community Association (Gurca) is urging people to give their views at a meeting at Glenurquhart Public Hall, starting at 7.30pm next Tuesday.
Loch Ness tourism expert Willie Cameron, a spokesman for Gurca which includes community and business representatives, said there had been some initial meetings to discuss the idea.
"At this stage, it is a proposal," he said. "No action is going to be taken until the meeting when we will find out the will of the people."
If support was forthcoming, the next step would be to carry out a feasibility study but he believed Urquhart Castle had the potential to bring in revenue for infrastructure projects such as pothole repairs, improved footpaths and cycle ways, as well as supporting local facilities such as the day care centre and a childcare centre.
"We have a cash cow sitting on our doorstep but it seems not a penny is coming into the area," he said.
"We have potholes on the A82. How can you invite people to the area, flying in from China and hiring cars, only for them to have a burst tyre?"
He stressed, however, the buyout was only a suggestion at this stage.
"I believe it is possible and feasible," he said. "It could be the tipping point for complete change in the area."
A HES spokeswoman said: "We were approached by the Glen Urquhart Rural Community Association to discuss their broader plans for the area and have had two initial meetings. However, there are no firm plans on the table."