THE owners of a rat-infested derelict site in Dingwall have been ordered to take action to rid the site of vermin by next Friday after repeated complaints by exasperated neighbours.
The former lemonade factory site off Mart Road adjoins flats and businesses, raising concerns about disease.
Self-employed gardener Ian Gifford (64), whose Mayfield home backs on to the site, said: “We’ve been fighting to get something done about this area for years. We look out on it from our bedroom window and it’s a disgrace.
“The rats are a new thing and it’s not just one or two – we’ve seen them in daylight and that means there are a lot of them around.
“We can’t let our grandchildren out into the back garden to play because of it. We saw six in our garden one night of various sizes.”
But a spokesman for the company which owns the land, GSA Property and Business Holdings, based in Inverness, has played down the problem and said it was being dealt with.
Giving his name only as Robert, he also revealed long-term plans to demolish the old factory and build 22 homes on the site, with a timescale of about two to three years.
Local councillor Graham Mackenzie said he had contacted Highland Council after he was made aware of the vermin problem.
He said: “Council officials have written to the owner, but according to local residents nothing has been done so far.”
A yard next to the former factory is strewn with rubbish and has been the source of disquiet amongst local people for years.
Jonathan Hogg, an agent for the NFU Mutual insurance company, which has an office near the site, confirmed that staff had seen rats and reported the matter to Highland Council.
Former Highland councillor Alasdair Rhind, who runs a funeral director’s business backing on to the yard, said he was not aware of a rat problem in his own premises, but he added: “I’m pleased that the council is taking action and it’s up to the owner to get the issue resolved.”
Mr Rhind said the area should not have been allowed to become an eyesore and called for it to be cleared up.
His view was backed by Dingwall Community Council chairman Nigel Greenwood. He said: “If it’s left untidy there’s the potential for this sort of thing to happen.
“Ideally we would like to see some sort of development on the site, whether it’s commercial or residential, but at the very least getting it tidied up.”
The GSA spokesman said: “There are rats all over the country – it’s not a major problem. It could be happening in the back garden of your own place.
“It’s not like there are 500 rats running around there. We have engaged a company to deal with it and get it sorted. It’s an old building that’s been abandoned for a long time and things like this happen.”
He added the buildings would be demolished in a few months, with hoardings erected and 22 flats eventually developed on the site, which will come as welcome news to long-term critics of the company’s activities in the town.
A council spokesman said: “Our environmental health officers have served notice on the landowner to rid the land of rats by August 4.
“To date they have not received a reply, so have followed their notice up by sending a letter reminding the landowner of the deadline.
“If no action is taken by this date our environmental health team will follow this up.”
That could mean the council would arrange for the work to be carried out and invoice the landowner, she said.
But the spokesman added: “We would need to get access rights so there would be a process to follow. However, we hope the notice deadline will be adhered to.”