Did council award Lews Castle contract during tourism discussions?

PLANS to convert part of Lews Castle into luxury self-catering units are set for a legal challenge as an island hotel group announced it is pursuing a judicial review.

Kenman Holdings Ltd, which operates three hotels and a holiday company in Stornoway, announced it was set to raise an action in the Court of Session claiming the tender process for an operator to run the units was not genuine and broke European laws.

The leader of Western Isles Council issued a strong rebuttal promising to defend any action but claims have emerged the council awarded the contract while discussions with the local tourism body were still ongoing.

The upper-floor accommodation at Lews Castle is to be 5-star standard and with 52 bed spaces which include en-suite rooms and larger suites. castle.jpg

The accommodation will be offered to guests in different configurations containing one, two and three bedrooms to allow a wide range of visitors to be accommodated from families and couples to groups and corporate guests.

The tender to manage the self-catering units was awarded to Cheshire-based Natural Assets Investments Limited, trading as Natural Retreats, which operates other luxury holiday attarctions around the country.

Matthew Spence, founder and CEO of Natural Retreats, recently said: “I am delighted to share our vision for Lews Castle. We hope to create a 5-star accommodation offering and service and look forward to sharing this wonderful destination, which boasts stunning scenery, a rich history, wildlife and endless activities, with our guests.
“It is easy to see why this was voted the number one European island to visit recently by TripAdvisor. I couldn’t agree more.”

Kenneth Mackenzie, managing director of Kenman Holdings which runs the four-star Caberfeidh Hotel in Stornoway as well as the Royal Hotel and the Cala Hotel, said they had been in touch with Western Isles Council and Highlands and Islands Enterprise in relation to the tender process.

The contract for private sector development partner for the Lews Castle development was then awarded to Natural Assets Investments Limited and its associated company NA Lews Castle Limited.

Kenneth Mackenzie said: “Our action has the support of over 40 small local businesses who, whilst very supportive of the museum and ground floor renovation of the castle, are seriously concerned their businesses will be badly damaged by the subsidised operation of the accommodation proposed on the upper floors of the development.”

Kenamn is also lodging a complaint with the European Commission on the grounds of breach of European rules on the award of concessions and the rules on state aid.

Council leader Angus Campbell said that if the threat of legal action transpires, it would be vigorously defended by the council.

He added: “I am extremely disappointed at what I hope is not an attempt to undermine the most significant investment in cultural and tourism assets ever undertaken in the Outer Hebrides. This is a flagship, generational project for the community of the Outer Hebrides which will create much-needed jobs and benefit businesses throughout the area.”

He encouraged islanders to go to a Natural Retreats exhibition being held in Stornoway Town Hall this week.

Mr Campbell said Natural Assets Investments Ltd had committed to a minimum capital contribution of £500,000 as well as taking the whole operational risk associated with the project.

“The procurement of the private sector partner undertaken in 2012 was open and transparent. Despite registering his interest during the open tender period, Mr MacKenzie chose not to submit a tender.”

However, Ian Fordham of island holiday providers body Outer Hebrides Tourism sees it differently.

He said the tourist bodies were in extensive dialogue with the council, representing both the concerns of members in Lewis and Harris over the risk of unfair displacement of trade from existing local businesses by a highly-subsidised accommodation operation at Lews Castle and also highlighting factual errors and misrepresentations within reports used by CnES in making their decision.

He added: “These industry concerns were not accepted and the contract was awarded whilst we were still in discussions with CnES.”

Highlands and Island Enterprise is expected to be named in the legal action but it claimed it would be “inappropriate” to comment at this stage.

No one at Natural Retreats responded to a request for the company’s view.

Cessna lands safely after engine scare

CessnaCessna lands safely at Stornoway after engine scare

A twin-engine Cessna light aircraft with two people on board declared an emergency near the Western Isles while flying from Wick to Iceland tonight (Sunday).

The pilot reported problems with one of the engines and asked to land at Stornoway.

Police, ambulance, coastguards and fire crews from Stornoway and Shawbost attended at Stornoway airport to help the airport fire section but the Cessna landed safely around 7.15pm.

The Stornoway to Point road had been closed for a while but quickly reopened.

Loch Seaforth carries vehicles on Saturday but not Sunday


No vehicles will be taken on the Ullapool run on the ferry Loch Seaforth on Sunday, CalMac is telling passengers.

Even though vehicles were taken today (Sat) because of technical problems on the ferry Isle of Lewis, any Sabbath-breakers will be forced to go via Uig because the vehicle service does not “officially” start until Monday.

Intending passengers are not very happy.

UPDATE – Loch Seaforth on Ullapool run with vehicles

UPDATE – I have just heard from someone who was told by the booking office that the Loch Seaforth vehicle service will not operate on Sunday. So don’t change any plans until you check the latest situation with CalMac. 

A technical fault with the ferry Isle of Lewis has resulted in the Loch Seaforth going back on the Ullapool run from Saturday morning – two days early.

CalMac says all sailings between Stornoway and Uig have been cancelled due to the technical problems.


The Loch Seaforth will take vehicles from tomorrow (Saturday)

So the Loch Seaforth will resume full vehicle sailings between Ullapool and Stornoway to the normal published timetable.

The new ferry has been unable to take vehicles for the last few weeks service because of Ullapool harbour works which had to be finished.  The former main Ullapool ferry, the Isle of Lewis, has instead been taking vehicles but via Uig on Skye.

However, all the work at Ullapool is now done and all load testing in the last few days was successful.

Sailings will leave Stornoway at 7am and 2.30pm on Saturday and then leave Ullapool at 10.30am and 6.30pm.

The ferry company says all customers who were booked to travel on the 12.40pm sailing from Stornoway to Uig have been rebooked on the 2.30pm sailing from Stornoway to Ullapool. And all customers who were booked to travel on the 4.40pm sailing from Uig to Stornoway have been rebooked on the 6.30pm sailing from Ullapool to Stornoway.

Donald Trump’s sister donates $250,000 to Bethesda

Trump family donate for mother’s memorial

Tycoon Donald Trump’s sister, Maryanne, has donated $250,000 to the Bethesda care home in Stornoway.

The senior judge of the US Court of Appeals said it was in memory of her late mother, also Maryanne, who grew up in Tong, near the Isle of Lewis town.

Donald Trump and Maryanne were here in June 2008 and they also visited the village where their mother grew up and where they still have many relatives.

Maryanne Trump Barry, who is 78, is a senior US judge in the Court of Appeals of the Third Circuit, and she has donated the sum, which is about £160,000 in sterling, to Bethesda Care Home.


Bethesda fundraiser D R Macdonald shows where the beds will be in the upper floor of the care home

Her surprise donation has prompted the Scottish Government to give a one-off funding allocation of £200,000 to the Western Isles Health and Social Care Partnership which will go towards the capital costs of the new care home beds.

NHS Western Isles chief executive Gordon Jamieson said: “This is an extremely welcome development and I would like to thank Bethesda’s generous benefactor, Maryanne Trump Barry, for her contribution to the project, as well as the Scottish Government and the local partnership, who, through their combined efforts, have given us a great opportunity to improve the experience of those waiting for care home placement.”

It emerged Ms Barry called up and asked if there was some way that should could have a memorial to her late mother put in place in a way that would also help the local community.

Bethesda fundraiser D R Macdonald, who is tasked to raise at least £250,000 annually for the adjoining four-bed Bethesda Hospice, said: “Some time ago, an approach was made to ask us if we could use this marvellous donation for the benefit of the community. It was a surprise as no one had ever offered us a quarter of a million of anything, never mind dollars. There was great excitement.”

The local authority-run nursing home has 21 beds at the moment and will have 30 after the work is completed in the next few months. The upper-floor development will then have a plaque saying it is being developed in memory of Maryanne Barry’s mother.

Once building consent has been received and tenders sought, it is hoped the project will begin very soon and the first residents should be in later this year.

Another high-profile supporter and fund-raiser for Bethesda in Stornoway is soccer legend Kenny Dalglish. He and his wife Marina have been supporting it since 2004.

D R Macdonald said they had suggested to the New York-based judge that she come to Lewis for the official opening and they were waiting to hear her response.

Loch Seaforth finally set to begin service?

Loch Seaforth about to start proper service

I wouldn’t be surprised if CalMac put the Ullapool-to-Stornoway ferry service with the Loch Seaforth Ullapool pieronto its intended timetable on Monday.  My man on the bridge says he hears the load-testing at Ullapool has gone well.

So there is no reason why the great One-Ferry Project dreamt up by former transport minister Keith Brown, and someone nameless at the comhairle, cannot now get underway.

The main man at Ullapool is delighted and explains that they have been at it 24/7.  Not like Stornoway, where ancient mediaeval influences still curtail progress on anything worthwhile to 24/6.

Look at the photo here taken this week. You can see why hauliers are up in arms about how ridiculously narrow the vehicle ramp on the new £42 million vessel is. Any remaining claims of efficiency and rapid turnaround with traffic coming off as others go on are just nonsense as the photo clearly shows.

SNP group congratulates Macneil



The SNP Council group at CnES joins in the chorus of congratulations to Angus Brendan Macneil in his successful re-election to a third term as member of Parliament for the Western isles.

We also thank him for his considerable support on the SNP group’s campaigns on important island issues such as :

  • Coastguards
  • Tug
  • Interconnector
  • Unfair fuel prices
  • Improving Broadband
  • Improving Mobile signals
  • Fuel poverty
  • The islands retaining the Crown Estate revenues

We thank him unreservedly for the great number of people he has helped individually throughout our islands – a matter which featured strongly in constituents’ responses during our recent campaigning.

We will be inviting our MP to the council to discuss matters such as homeworking and community empowerment embracing the opportunities and challenges the islands face in the coming years.

Rudhach is new boss of Stornoway Port Authority

A Point man has been appointed as the new chief executive of Stornoway Port Authority.

The authority said that Alexander D Macleod, who is 46, will bring a wide range of managerial and practical skills to the port when he takes the reins on July 27.

Alex D Macleod 2

Alex Macleod takes over as boss after a period of turmoil at Stornoway Port Authority

He is currently the commercial manager of a local civil engineering company where he is said to have gained considerable experience around Stornoway Harbour and has taken part in a number of major infrastructure projects at the port over many years including the recent upgrading of Number 3 pier.

The SPA says Mr Macleod was also involved in a major harbour infrastructure project connected with the America’s Cup viaduct basin in Auckland, New Zealand.

Mr Macleod, his wife and young family live in Knock. His uncle, grandfather and great grandfather were all fishermen working out of Stornoway.

SPA chairman Captain Robert Frater said: “It is clear Mr. Macleod is passionate about Stornoway Harbour and he is committed to addressing the many challenges in managing and improving the port for the benefit of all of its stakeholders.

“The board is delighted that Mr Macleod has accepted the position of chief executive and is confident that he is very well equipped and placed to meet the varying demands of the post.

Extra Stornoway to Ullapool sailings over the summer

Extra Stornoway to Ullapool sailings over the summer  CALMAC-Hebrides-Today

Details of the four new additional sailings linking Stornoway and Ullapool over the summer have been published by ferry operator Caledonian MacBrayne.

The two extra return journeys on Fridays and Saturdays will run from Friday, June 26 to Saturday, August 29 which CalMac says will provide a significant boost for tourists getting to and from the the island and relieve pressure on the Uig routes.

Details of the new sailings can be viewed here

The additional sailings will be carried out by the MV Isle of Lewis, in support of the main vessel on the route, the MV Loch Seaforth, and were announced recently by transport minister Derek MacKay.

Ian Fordham, the chairman of Outer Hebrides Tourism, said: “Outer Hebrides Tourism is delighted the Minister has listened to our concerns over capacity on the Stornoway to Ullapool route, and very pleased he has committed to additional runs in the peak period. The extra services are timed to meet the needs of visitors travelling to and from the Outer Hebrides, and we have no doubt that they will prove highly popular.

“Tourism is worth £53 million to the local economy, sustaining around 1000 businesses across the island chain. The additional visitors brought by these services could add at least £1 million of spend in the local economy, further helping the Outer Hebrides reach its target to grow the visitor economy by 25% by 2020.”

CalMac have scheduled the extra services at times designed to meet peak tourist demand. Operations Director, Drew Collier said: “We have consulted at length with the local community about the most effective times to run these extra services. We expect these additional sailings to meet the additional capacity that local tourism leaders say is required for the islands over the summer months.”

“The route from Skye to Harris can be put under pressure during the tourist season and these extra sailing will do a lot to address any potential capacity issues for people travelling to both Lewis and Harris during this busy period,” he said.

In addition to these new scheduled sailings CalMac is also laying on extra sailings on July 19 to cover extra demand generated by the HebCelt Festival and on August 16 to cope with travellers attending Rally Hebrides.

LibDem Diary

The Secret Diary of Ruaraidh Ferguson, age 53 and a half


May 7 – Well, that’s it all over and done with. Personally a fairly humbling experience but thanks to all who gave me your vote. I arrived at the count at about 12.00 by which time the only thing left to be decided was who would come third or fourth between the Christian Party and the Conservatives.

Ruaridh Ferguson 4

Ruaraidh hints he may not stand again

The LibDems throughout Scotland took an absolute battering with the question earlier posed by Fios now looking highly intuitive. I think we were always on a hiding but when Clegg said he wouldn’t work in coalition with the SNP, even I as a LibDem candidate was highly offended over the arrogant refusal to accept the will of the Scottish electorate.

If there are any dubious votes the returning officer gathers the representatives of the parties around, shows them the ballot paper and explains his decision as to allow the vote or not. In most cases this is fairly straightforward however there were two highlights in this procedure.

One obviously highly-perceptive member of the electorate filled in his or her form as follows:

  • Brown         Rude word associated with banker
  • Cormack    Rude word associated with banker
  • Ferguson   Good Guy
  • MacNeil      Rude word associated with banker
  • Morrison   Rude word associated with banker

Another ballot paper was marked with a kiss, some amorous man, or woman, had applied lipstick then kissed the box on the ballot paper next to Mr Brown. It was great that both ballot papers were allowed as there was obviously an indication of who the voter wanted to vote for. Mr Brown was due to leave on Friday but I understand he is now trying to trace all Labrador owners in the Western Isles.

The LibDems in Scotland are holding a meeting today in Edinburgh to discuss the election, I put my radical thoughts on paper to them but I’m not hopeful that there will be sufficient courage to tackle the problem, which I don’t think is down to policy or personnel

There also seems to be something strange happening with LibDem membership, over 5,000 new members since we got annihilated on Thursday. Absolutely bizarre.

Five years of unfettered Tory rule to come with Cameron having to manage his backbenchers whilst at the same time the SNP have to manage the expectations of their membership. It will be interesting to watch from the sidelines but not if you are one of the innocents caught in the fall out.

One last rant about the voting system. Four million voters to elect one UKIP MP, 1.5 million voters to elect 56 SNP MPs. It can’t possibly be right. Three hundred and sixty five days to the next election. I think the Lib/Dems are looking for a candidate if anyone fancies a go.

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