A SEVEN-YEAR bid by TV star Penelope Keith to establish a restaurant in a Black Isle village is nearing conclusion now the building is on track to open next spring, it was revealed this week.
And it will be one of the north’s most low-carbon ventures, blending perfectly into the traditional surroundings of Avoch’s High Street.
It is thought it will operate as a cafe and delicatessen during the day, while serving more formal meals in the evening, and will employ several staff on a full-time and part-time basis. The delicatessen will be an extension to the couple’s business in nearby Rosemarkie, which they acquired this year.
It will open on a site at the east end of the street formerly occupied by a filling station and excavation work is being carried out to ensure that no ground contamination remained from its former use.
The project already has approval and the latest submission to the planning department – to be lodged next week – is an amendment aimed at making the building even more traditional in appearance.
If it gets the go-ahead from Highland planning officials, it is envisaged work will start within eight to 10 weeks, with completion early next year.
The renewed bid is thought to meet objections put forward by officials to an earlier plan submitted by the sitcom actress and her former policeman husband Rodney Timson, and they are confident the revised plan will meet with approval.
The building – designed in the style of a single-storey traditional Highland cottage – is much lower than that originally envisaged.
The initial two-story proposal led to objections, an appeal and even a police inquiry into a petition which was drawn up in opposition to the scheme.
For more than a year the site has lain dormant, with locals puzzling over the couple’s plans.
But this week their agent and the building’s designer, Duncan MacLeman, said: "We are pretty certain we have now met the views of the planners and that the scheme is ready to go ahead.
"I know Penelope and Rodney are both very excited about the prospect of opening up and have been very keen to produce a building that not only blends in with its surroundings, but reduces its environmental impact as far as possible.
"Current works are soil investigation and analysis to ensure maximum protection to human health and ground water due to the site’s previous history and the revised planning application is scheduled to be submitted early next week.
"The building will use construction techniques and materials never employed before in the Highlands, resulting in exceptional thermal performance and there will be extensive use of ‘green’ materials and technologies to reduce the carbon footprint of the building."
Mr MacLeman added that the redesign took into account the "gateway" position of the site and aimed to take advantage of the views and natural daylight.
Ms Keith and Mr Timson own a house in Fortrose and they holiday regularly in the area along with family.
But efforts by Ms Keith, who starred in the comedies To The Manor Born and The Good Life, to open her restaurant have proved something of a saga.
She bought the former filling station site with her husband in 2005 and lodged plans for a restaurant. That design was seen by some to be unsympathetic to the village’s conservation area and 240 people signed a petition against it.
However, it later emerged that many of the names had been in favour of her plans and thought they were signing a petition to keep the local post office open. Then it was discovered that some of the names on the petition were of people who were dead.
After that plan foundered, Ms Keith decided to abandon the restaurant plan and build a house on the site instead but was persuaded by the community to keep her eatery plans on track.