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Is new brewery the last piece of Inverness retail park's puzzle?

By Andrew Dixon

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An artist impression of the development.
An artist impression of the development.

Plans for a new brewery, distillery and taphouse have been described as the last piece of the puzzle for an out-of-town Inverness retail park.

Black Isle Brewery is seeking to significantly increase its presence in the city with its proposal on a vacant five acre site to the west of Highlander Way at Inverness Shopping Park.

Documents lodged with Highland Council show it also includes a shop, visitor centre, bar and restaurant, office and education areas, courtyard outdoor events area, plus associated works.

The planned site.
The planned site.

The firm, which is based at Allangrange on the Black Isle but also has a bar and separate hostel in Inverness city centre, says if approved its existing brewery will become storage facilities and all of its 15 employees at the site will be relocated to the new premises, which would create a further 30 jobs.

A planning statement submitted to Highland Council by the firm explained the existing brewery produces approximately 10,000 hectolitres per annum and the medium-term proposal is to increase this to 30,000 hectolitres per annum. It added: "The brewery requires a purpose-built production facility for this threefold increase in volume and further future expansion. This will include storage and distribution facilities."

Black Isle Brewery makes a range of products.
Black Isle Brewery makes a range of products.

Black Isle Brewery is an organic craft brewery founded in 1998. The site it wants to move to has formed part of a mixed use development scheme since around 1994. "Yet this has failed to be developed in the intervening 27 years since development started in 1996," said a brewery spokesman.

"The successful Inverness Shopping Park has been developed and is now being supplemented by the HMP Highland [new Inverness Prison]. It is common ground, the property [site] is unlikely to be developed for a pure business use due to viability constraints.

"An attempt was made to vary the use to include food and drink and some retail in 2012 and 2013. This failed but on the basis the site was noted as being unlikely to be developed for business use and positive comments made about a possible mixed-use scheme with a 'business use base'. A further 10 years on and this prediction has been proven.

"The [brewery] is now proposing that this same business use base can apply for the proposed development. The shop and food and drink offer is ancillary to the principal brewing business and strongly linked to the tourism factor.

"[Some of] the key benefits of the proposed development are: development of the last piece of the Inverness Shopping Park puzzle and construction of a gateway building on a long-standing vacant site; expansion of a key local brewing business which will encourage further investment and bring further local job opportunities, further investment and expansion of the key craft beer sector; additional manufacturing, tourism, retail and food and drink 'draw' to the already successful Inverness Shopping Park retail, leisure and business park."

The brewery pointed out that proposals in 2010 and 2012 for restaurants, including drive-through facilities, at the site were rejected mainly because they did not comply with the council's local development plan, although in the latter case councillors decided not to accept local authority officials' recommendations for approval.

"The planning case put forward in 2010-2012 saw an opportunity to develop the property [site] for other food and drink uses which would contribute positively to the economic and social development and wellbeing of the greater Inverness area, including facilitating the development of, and the connections for, the university and college campus at Beechwood," stated the brewery's report. "The case was made that without such alternative development there was a stated real prospect that the [site] will lie undeveloped for the foreseeable future, making no contribution to the economic and social wellbeing of the greater Inverness area. This application is made over 10 years later and the same case is being made."

An artist impression of the development.
An artist impression of the development.

The brewery has also outlined the key objectives of its proposed development to be:

  • Expansion: The craft beer world is highly saturated, with hundreds of producers vying for prime space on supermarket shelves. To gain a competitive edge in the wholesale market, Black Isle Brewery will reduce their unit cost by expanding operations and achieving greater efficiency of scale.
  • Relocation: The [brewery]’s existing production facility is not suitable for expansion. This will be a third expansion and this new site to the east of Inverness has been identified. The production facility and associated operations are to be relocated to the property [site].
  • Diversification: The proposed development is an opportunity for Black Isle Brewery to diversify and add a food and drink offer. Design proposals explore the addition of a small distilling operation, potentially in a later phase of development.
  • Hospitality: One of the [brewery]'s current activities is a guided tour through the production facility. The guided tour will be relocated to the proposed development, together with the brewery's shop. The [brewery] proposes to extend their on-site hospitality offering through a taproom serving food and beer. The new taproom should build on the success and brand identity established by Black Isle Brewery's existing bars in both Inverness and Fort William.
  • Education: Black Isle Brewery intends to form an expanded and improved relationship with the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI). The [site] is within walking distance of the UHI campus. The brewery's relocation to the new site is an opportunity for Black Isle Brewery to provide facilities for brewing and distilling courses in conjunction with the UHI. The proposed development includes provision of teaching spaces within the new facility.
  • Philosophy: The [brewery] was founded in 1998 with a clear sense of environmental responsibility, as demonstrated by their motto 'Save the Planet, Drink Organic'. The [brewery] is committed to organics and protecting the natural environment. The development of a new brewing facility in a more public location is an opportunity for Black Isle Brewery to convey their philosophy to a wider audience through architecture and landscaping.
  • Local identity: Black Isle Brewery also considers the relocation of its premises as an opportunity to engage with a wider audience and form stronger ties with Inverness, by moving to a more public and accessible location.

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