REJECTION of a bid to ditch planning conditions that would pave the way for Ross-shire’s newest distillery to offer visitor tours in time to cash in on the lucrative tourist season would mean a devastating triple whammy for the county town, its boss has claimed.
GlenWyvis Distillery wants Highland Council planners to ditch conditions to a previous approval for its ground-breaking micro-distillery that would allow it to run "carefully managed" visitor tours.
Planning officials though have recommended refusal based on road safety concerns and access arrangements to the site, which sits on a hill serviced by minor roads overlooking Dingwall.
The issue is expected to come to a head on June 5 at a planning meeting. GlenWyvis boss John Mckenzie says refusal would be another blow following Dingwall-based Ross County’s relegation from the top flight of Scottish football and the looming spectre of car parking charges to the town.
While GlenWyvis plans running an electric shuttle bus between the town centre and its Scroggie Farm site, concerns remain about the visitor traffic which could be generated given the distillery’s high public profile and close links to the booming North Coast 500 route.
One objector to the variation, Fiona Mackenzie, says the distillery has become "a huge industrial development located in a beautiful, scenic, rural crofting community" and is concerned about "a continued disregard of planning regulations" and the road access. Another, Mike Chalmers, warns there have been a number of near misses with vehicles entering and leaving the site.
He suggests a visitor centre in the town itself, as originally envisaged, would be preferable: "Visitors would be more inclined to spend their time and money there as opposed to just passing through."
Around 60 people, amongst them investors in the distillery, have lodged letters in support of the bid. Dingwall Community Council is also supportive.
A statement from the distillery makes clear it wants tours to start in time for the lucrative summer tourist season and that a delay "will have serious implications for the distillery and the town".
"Tours are a vitally important part of any distillery – helping to create jobs and drive local economic growth. GlenWyvis has always had plans for a visitor centre, but in our 2017 members’ survey almost 90 per cent stated that they wanted to see any visitor experience located at the distillery itself."
It says a safer access to the distillery, which improves visibility, has been constructed – with plans for further improvements. It says it’s seeking permission to erect warning signs at the road entrance and is working to ensure minimum vehicle access to the distillery site by private car.
It said: "Central to this is a plan to introduce an electric shuttle bus service that will collect all visitors from Dingwall town centre – in a move that will undoubtedly bring more visitors into the town to the benefit of the local economy."
GlenWyvis managing director, John Mckenzie, said of the refusal recommendation: "This is very disappointing, and is the third thing to hit Dingwall recently – with Ross County relegated and the parking charges debate continuing.
"We do hope that we can get the local councillors to support our application at the earliest possible time, which is June 5, which will help to ensure that Dingwall can secure the economic benefits that tours would bring over the summer."
Planners note that the original approved distillery application was as a farm diversification project and would result in no significant increase in traffic.
Highland Council said: "A delegated report on the application was circulated to ward members [this week] and it is therefore now possible that the application will be included on the agenda for the next meeting of the north planning applications committee on June 5. Road safety concerns have been raised by transport planning about the unsuitability of the existing access arrangements. As these cannot be resolved the application has been recommended for refusal."
The next committee meeting after that is in August.