About this site

The Economic Development Department of CNES have unilaterally completely changed the Castle Redevelopment. From the superb 5 star hotel the island was promised, we are now getting budget tourism accommodation, provided by the preferred bidder, Natural Retreats.

This will have a negative effect on all accommodation providers, not just self-catering operations. Rooms are being offered at a rate of less than £30 per person per night, two people sharing, for a minimum two night stay at Natural Retreat’s John O’Groats “hotel”.

Ask yourselves this…. Given price parity, would visitors prefer to stay with you or instead in the most famous and iconic building in the Outer Hebrides?

Your comments would be very welcome. Please take the time to fill out our opinion survey.

Graham McLellan
Hebridean Luxury Holidays

Your comments to the planners can be emailed to all the members of the council and the Stornoway Trust as well using the addresses below:-

46 thoughts on “About this site”

  1. I am very concerned about the proposed change of use of the Lewis Casle to self catering accommodation. My family are involved in tourist accommodation and are aware of a downturn in demand for self catering properties due to an over provision over the past few years. The island of Lewis and Harris has recently been rated by trip advisor as the best island to visit in Europe. If this is partly due to existing accommodation providers it is unfortunate if they are to be left undermined by a project receiving public funding. The castle renovation is welcome and the original idea of a luxury hotel would have been an enhancement to the islands. Our council members should look after the interests of those already contributing the the island economy instead of using the public purse to potentially put them out of business.

    1. Tosh,
      the councillors I have spoken to have genuinely had no idea that this was happening. They were still expecting the luxury hotel to be delivered until receiving my open letter.
      They had not been informed that this idea had failed and was non deliverable. So obviously there was no discussion re an alternative solution. Joe MacPhee in Economic Development is solely responsible, although he insists that the end decision lies with councillors ie they accept or reject his recommendations

  2. So disappointed and let down by the fact that we were promised a 5* Hotel and ending up with self catering apartments of which there are many. It’s hard enough trying to fill the ones already around the town so what chance will we have competing with lower price up in a Castle. Why were we not informed of this change. Probably because it was obviously going to cause an uproar. This has been done behind our backs and it stinks.

  3. The self-catering season is short and the number of properties available for self-catering has increased significantly over the years making it difficult for those with properties to sell enough weeks to make it worth while. Many property owners have renovated or built houses without any assistance. The council decision to allow an international firm to come in to the Island to offer yet more competiton is disgraceful.

  4. It is not only self catering properties that have seen a downturn in trade over the past two seasons,Existing guest houses together with bed and breakfast establishments have also seen declines.Although visitor numbers may well show increases,when you take into consideration the large increase in new enterprises over the past few years,it is not too difficult to see that existing and new alike will struggle to remain viable.Public funding is money that has two faces,and it is a questionable spend if one face brings improvement,whilst the other brings hardship.Whilst you can never stand still,with the ecomony tight,expenditure demands a lot more clearer thinking than has previously been the case

  5. Surely this can not be allowed to go on. If the Lewis Castle project goes ahead it should be on the terms of the planning permission granted and that planning was for a 5* luxury hotel .
    There is already an over supply of holiday accommodation and B & Bs in our island and most if not all were built and furnished with no grants or financial help and certainly with no money from the public purse

  6. We are fairly new to Lewis, moving from the mainland to take on an existing guesthouse. This proposal is very frightening to us, as we believe the prices will be extremely competitive. Visitors to Lewis are more likely to choose a unique experience in a castle, at a budget rate, than make use of existing B&B’s and guesthouses especially during short stays. We would hate to see any of the existing accommodation providers needing to shut doors because of this. We took on a business with projected occupancy levels, it is very disheartening to think we may have invested a lot of money and time to find out there will be a new major competitor, who is also getting funding to do so. The fact that the whole issue seems to have been done in an underhanded fashion with the councillors not even being made aware until now adds to our frustration and anger.

  7. I am really amazed that the Castle is not going to go ahead as a five star hotel. This is what the project was initially for and surely the funders, e.g the Lottery and others had some say over what the castle was going to be used for. I myself have one house in Stornoway which we have invested in over the years and we do self catering in the summer season. There is no way that we would be able to compete with a company coming in and offering low budget accommodation in the castle. Surely questions need to be asked as to what the initial capital funding was going to be used for and is it allowable for the council to change its mind half way through the process without consultation to the funders (there may be a need for a Freedom of Information request). Also what are these self catering units going to be used for in the off peak season and is it true that the company taking over is going to have a 3 year non rent period. I myself have contacted two Councillors and I was sent back a reply from Angus Campbell which did not really say much. Would it not be an idea for all the local self catering providers to get together to have a meeting on this really important issue. If what I am being told is correct, then what a shame that this iconic building, instead of being a five star hotel as promised, will resemble more of a back-packers lodge.
    Calum Watt

  8. My understanding was plans for a Five Star Hotel, which I though would attract a new type of client / visitor to the Islands. A new market, new business opportunities and no displacement.

    What are we getting, self catering!!!

    This is complete displacement and will have a profound negative effect on existing businesses .

    Where is the business thinking in this plan?

  9. It’s a free market….all self catering places should get together and buy the land beside the airport with views over the braigh and develop a 7 star hotel and compete the castle bunk house out the water…..

  10. This really is a slap in the face for all concerned in the tourism industry in Lewis. Right from the start of the project there has been problems, from the tender stage which proves the lowest cost option is not always the best. The work should have gone to a local contractor for various reasons, such as; keeping money in the local economy and jobs for hard working islanders; locals trades persons with a love for the castle would have, with a sense of pride, made sure the project would have been carried out to the highest standards as is always expected in small communities to maintain their reputation. However, the project is now to far on for that, which leads to the question.
    “How could the sudden change in the plans possibly have gone through without it going through the various departments?”
    In my opinion the project should be put on hold until the council come out with minutes of meetings and who passed the changes. I know that this would cost money in the long run but the fact of the matter here is not about what the castle should be or how it should be run, it’s about how decision are carried out behind the doors of the council chambers and who is involved and what their reasons are for these changes.

    I somehow think the “I didn’t know about that” reply by many is a bit of a joke, like a playground excuse, “it was a big boy that did it and run away”.
    If it is the case, then the council members that were kept on the dark should stand up and start asking serious questions about their fellow chamber “friends”.

    Sort this out before it ruins the only industry left in the island.

    1. Typical Western Isles Council at it again,any Council that can put £23 million in a foreign bank and lose the lot does not say much for them at all,they have an Electric car sitting at the main door of their building that barely turns a wheel,they got a nice grant for it i am sure so that makes it ok,the bar will be well stocked though.

  11. This is a poorly-thought out juggernaut which seems to be hurtling towards the fragile tourism market in the islands. Although now training away from the islands, I retain a financial interest in an island tourism property.

    This new venture will not create any new jobs for the islands – it will simply end up employing the people who currently work in island tourism businesses who are made redundant. People in the islands were promised an iconic, 5-star hotel. If the market cannot deliver that then the Comhairle should acccept that another use has to be found for the building.

  12. This comes as no great surprise. This is the type of thing that contributed to me leaving the Hebridies…..
    CNES has dealt another blow to an already fragile economy in a market that has been becoming increasingly competitive….

    I think it’s about time there was a shake up CNES HQ on Sandwick road and they throw out the dead wood and reduce the manning levels by employing people who can do the job. People who actually might look around and see what is happening and plan something that will benifit the local communities and economy..
    It’s always easy to make bad decisions when you know your job is safe…. Accountabilty is a word that should be enforced.

  13. ” It’s Our Castle ” – My point is in the Title !! As all previous comments have stated , planning permission was granted for a 5* Hotel & Museum. How can WE Islanders benefit from the Castle IF it’s going to be a Bunkhouse ? We wouldn’t have access to it and after all “It’s Our Castle”

  14. It has been frustrating to witness the Castle’s slow and severe deterioration to the point where it had become an embarrassing eyesore. The renovations of late therefore bring some much needed cheer to the area.

    However, when this economic regeneration of an outstanding asset adopts a strategy that’s potentially fatal for those who already occupy the target market of this new enterprise, there must be immediate pause for reconsideration.

    Fair competition is welcome in the form of a genuine 5 star resort. However, when that competition is in fact self catering budget accommodation and comes complete with the advantage of its own publicly funded capital, then the market forces become skewed.

    I have personally invested enormous amounts of capital in the accommodation business on the island over the last 10 years. My business targets short, medium and long term letting periods. This project will pose a (publicly financed) direct threat to my short term lets if the budget model of this proposed business is adopted. My medium and long terms lets will also be adversely affected as competing, struggling self catering units migrate to become medium and long term lets.

    Some self catering units will certainly be “displaced” if the project proceeds along its apparent direction. Furthermore, if the project itself subsequently fails, public funds will be gone too. Either situation will be to the detriment of the Outer Hebrides.

  15. CnES doing its usual Judas on the islanders. Why would we expect any different? I suspect that many councillors, indeed, had no knowledge of this as they are too busy in-fighting and playing tit-for-tat party politics to read what they are actually approving in Committee. I have rarely been more disappointed in the people I gave my precious vote to.

    Self-catering accomodation?! The place is saturated with self-catering accomodation. What is wrong with them? Surely we are worth more than this?

  16. There is something more to this than just “smelling of a rat”. It is insidious, as though we are being told by “elders” from on high: “We know better than you” (i.e. “you cannot have a hotel with a bar because, well… we know better than you!”). Personally, I believe there has been interference from vested interests around the town (I won’t name them here, but you can guess some of them I’m sure), and the council have done “chicken” in the face on opposition from these people of “power”.

  17. Having not long read our esteemed council leaders comments in the Gazette, it leaves Mr with one big question. Just who exactly has he been talking to with regards to this development? I personally have not met ANYBODY who agrees with this u-turn. Every single person I have spoken to about this (whether they be interested parties or merely the electorate that the council claim to represent), does not want this development changed into the half measure of self catering apartments. It would be a travesty to cheapen this building to budget accommodation when it offers so much more, especially with the marina devolpment going ahead and hopefully attracting the yachting fraternity to these islands. I am damn sure they wouldn’t be looking for cut price accommodation for they’re stopovers.

  18. It’s disappointing to read that the initial plans have changed. I work for a council in Sydney, this sort of decision would never be taken without consultation with the community. Furthermore, a full report with recommendations would be provided to our planning committee, community safety committee, multicultural advisory committee, youth advisory committee, seniors committee and the arts committee, with benefits, impact, costs etc. how on earth can CNES state that they knew nothing about the changes? Changes to the funding also need to be agreed with the funding body, so playing ignorance doesn’t wash.

    The castle development is a fantastic opportunity for Lewis. I’ve shown friends the castle and it’s grounds (in person and online) and they’re in awe that such a building has been left to go to ruin in the first place. There are so many opportunities for the building, yet cheap accommodation seems to be the option that “won.” A 5* venue, with restaurant and spa would generate more jobs for the economy, bring tourism, from far and wide. How many people dream of getting married in a Scottish castle? How many castles can boast such wonderful surroundings? Had the castle been feel oped when I got married (6 years ago), I would certainly have considered getting married at home; we opted for Glasgow instead. In addition to weddings, how many conferences could be attracted to the island?

    The self catering market in Lewis and Harris is saturated, do we really need more self catering accommodation? Have CNES looked at the impact on the environment? Stornoway has the Heb Hostel for those on a budget and wanting to explore the island, there is also plenty of self catering accommodation in town and out of town.

    It sounds like the council really need to go back and consult with the community and out before them the options, let your rate payers decide on what they want on the island?

    1. G’day Joanne,
      sadly Economic Development has not even consulted with it’s own councillors never mind the community. The CNES press officer has released nothing. Any other council, in dealing with any commercial body, never mind a “multinational”, would surely be seen to be whiter than white and all dealings be transparent. Not to do so would leave questions re the passing of brown envelopes. But not this one ( Mr Burr, please note, I am not suggesting that this has happened, but by being as underhand as you have been, you have left yourselves open to potential allegations of corruption).

    1. I heard there were two bidders, one being MacDonald Hotels. But they both pulled out somewhere down the line

  19. I think its an absolute disgrace that yet again the council have reneged on a decision. A 5 star hotel is exactly the boost in tourism that the island needs. We do not need budget accommodation, there are plenty of good quality and fair priced b & bs and hostels on the island to cover that market. What we do need is to fill a hole in the high end luxury market, where people will spend the money to come up to the Island and stay in luxury accommodation we currently don’t really have a foot in that market. The Island has so much to offer a tourist but we sell ourselves short in the accommodation market. There is currently no 5 star hotels in Lewis, there are b&bs and self catering that are 4 possibly 5 graded but not hotels. Not everyone wants to stay in budget acommodation, they want to come on holiday to feel pampered and to relax. We have the perfect location, in the castle, to meet these needs and to put a step into the luxury market, which will bring its own economic benefits to the island. Sometimes you need to speculate to accumulate, so stop selling us short as its the cheaper option. I’m sure the majority of islanders would prefer to see the castle returned to its former glory and be admired once again for the beautiful building it is outside and in, rather than having cheap budget bland accommodation that has no personality or wow factor . Its one of the first things you see as you come into the town on the ferry, standing out on top of a hill, it could be spectacular and be a place that gets tourists buzzing if done right, it could be as iconic as the Callanish Stones if this Council could see past the initial cost and appreciate the benefits it would bring in. The Castle has been neglected for far too long, which in itself was a disgrace don’t make that mistake again. The Castle is the backdrop to Stornoway and played a vital part in the history of the Island, give it the appreciation and love it deserves, give it back its dignity and beauty.

  20. CNES need to concentrate on the small tasks before even thinking about a project of this magnitude. They can’t even get the parking in the town right!
    After a glowing report about how wonderful my home land is for tourists, why on earth would anyone in their right mind want to turn a building with such historical value to the town and it’s people into budget accommodation? Ridiculous!
    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’d rather see the castle go to ruin and fall apart than see a part of our towns history be turned into a travel lodge equivalent.
    I always defend Stornoway in conversation when others who’ve never been say “oh Stornoway, yeah I’ve heard of that place, nothing there apart from rain, wind and sheep?”
    However CNES are making it more difficult for me to defend my native land.
    Don’t forget that Stornoway belongs to it’s people. Where does the trust stand on this?

  21. Whilst working recently on the site of the Castle I was abruptly stopped by a council employee who was in on hell of a rush to take photos of the rooms on 2nd floor of the castle. Since I was in the middle of one of the rooms he asked if I could get out of the way. Any way while taking his photo I asked what it was for and his answer was they had found someone to take on the castle. With a smile I asked who and what for? Only to to find out it was to be for self catering accommodation. Shock wasn’t the word.

    I honestly can’t understand our local council, as if we don’t already have enough self catering. There are some great self catering house etc already on the island and the one thing we do need is five star establishment. Locals couldn’t wait for it, what a venue for wedding and different occasions. You’d never forget it would you.

    Come on CNES get a grip you don’t give us what you we are meant to, you don’t contract local contractors and just brush it off and think its best for the island take a good look. No-one wants this time to go back to your drawing board.

  22. Well, the community has spoken. Surely the castle should be used for something in keeping with the nature of the building – something that adds to the island’s economy and its appeal, complementing what is already here rather than competing with local businesses who are struggling to survive in the current climate as is.

    Well done for doing something about it – best of luck to you and it would appear that the community is fully behind you!

    1. Thank you Sarah. It seems that at last the OHTIA has woken up and will be taking this forward, even running their own survey. A few weeks ago their view was that the project would happen anyway and they didn’t want to be seen as a nuisance to the council. How things have changed, as you say, the community is fully behind me and has spoken, even if others were lagging a bit behind!

      1. Crikey! ‘A few weeks ago their view was that the project would happen anyway and they didn’t want to be seen as a nuisance to the council’. If being part funded by the council means that you have to put up or shut up then surely it is best to go without? The council are supposed to provide a service to the public and quite often forget who pays them and who they are answerable to. In my opinion there are very mixed messages that come out of the council when it comes to promoting tourism which is why the island needs groups like the OHTIA to stand up to the council and not get into bed with them. Many people on the islands are reliant on an income from tourism which is under exploited. The islands have just received a huge, free advertising boost (with more to follow) but the council decide that they want to do their own thing. The OHTIA should have been on to this like a shot.
        Thank you for speaking out.

  23. When I first heard about all of this I went to see my Visit Scotland pals on the island. I have been a member of Visit Scotland and have being paying into them for years (regardless of how many bookings they did nor did not send me!!! ) I was hopeful that they would get stuck in and stick up for my corner as a small self-catering operator but I was told they where not going to get involved. I am not having a pop at the local visit Scotland agents as I know they are part of a bigger set up but I was disappointed to hear that an organisation which I had been supporting for years would not be getting involved to support me!! I am still hopeful that they will get involved in the discussion if only to show the graphs and figures as to how much provision there already is for self catering on the island.

    Anyway lets hope that Graham’s alert to us all has managed to (a) – get us all speaking with the same voice and ( b) – shown the council that there is opposition to the castle being self -catering and that they are not going to be given a free hand in this major decision concerning the castle which if it were to go head is major displacement of existing business.

    This project from the beginning needed imagination, vision and determination to get the best for the castle, the island and the people of the island. The council and who ever the other partners are would have shown more imagination had they gone into the ‘Dragons Den’ to find a hotelier ( Duncan Ballantine comes to mind)
    That castle has been left neglected and abandoned ever since I came to Lewis which was 25 years ago. Now that it is watertight and potentially usable again it is important not to rush into a quick fix, low budget, fast buck solution.
    Heaven forbid that one day on the castle walls there will be signs saying -‘ muddy boots area’ and -‘ tumble dryer tokens – 1 pound each’.

    1. It is indeed a disgrace. I hope I am not doing anything illegal here, but in some places this could inspire a campaign of public occupation. Wouldn’t that be something…storming the castle and taking it over for the people? One can always dream…

  24. I have to echo everything said by previous respondents such as Fiona Martin. A 5-star hotel (with wedding and conference facilities, a spa and a restaurant befitting its 5 stars) is just what Lewis is crying out for to complete its tourism offering (which is already well catered for on the self-catering/bed and breakfast front). How much of an economic boost will actually be created by a budget ‘travel lodge’/backpackers’ lodge compared to a 5-star hotel in such historic premises? What a wasted opportunity this would be if the job opportunities and added higher-spend tourism offered by a 5-star hotel is ignored in favour of a short-sighted half measure that could spell a very sad and tacky end for this iconic building. Sickening…

  25. The decision to allow a budget operator to manage a substantial portion of the Lews Castle is at best ill considered. The decision I suspect has been taken in haste, to avoid losing funding perhaps, and thus preventing the refurbishment from stalling.
    You have to ask though, why did the hoteliers who expressed an interest pull out? This information is critical because both the Council and the Stornoway Trust should have been moving heaven and earth to make this happen but something obviously got in the way. What was it?
    Maybe simple economics and they perhaps thought that the proposed 5* option was simply unviable, or was it some obstacle which was placed in the way to make it unviable. Please do tell.
    So now we have a half baked compromise which whilst it allows the project to continue will do some real damage in economic terms to a portion of the tourist industry in the Island.
    If the playing field was level I would have no gripe but here we have a business being given a leg up at the publics expense who will be competing directly against a portion of the very people funding them.
    Public bodies should think long and hard before meddling in the commercial sector, particularly in an area which may well be over provided for in the first place. This is not a good use of public funds. The project would be better mothballed than taking this option and in the meantime all efforts redoubled to attract a commercial operator back to the table who can offer a solution which befits such an iconic building.

  26. e mail from OHTIA to me 12th March – did anyone else get it. ?

    Response from OHTIA Executive Committee to Letter from Graham McLellan.

    Timeline of action –

    Oct 13 – OHTIA hear RUMOURS !! about change of use of castle.

    Three letters later from OHTIA to council -OHTIA still chasing up response from council !!!

    Jan 14 – OHTIA provide information to council consultants on island bed stock. !!!! ( was this statistics taken from membership records ? )

    14th Jan meeting with council – finally !!! ( were elected councillors still in the dark about change of use at this point )

    12th Feb at AGM OHTIA members asked to write if they had concerns !!!!! you can’t be serious!!!

    Surely the RUMOURS in Oct and the delay in receiving back a response from the council should have caused concerns to the OHTIA and all members should have been alerted at that point. I am amazed !!!!!

  27. Re: OHTIA letter 12 March, yes I received this and share my concerns about being kept in the dark over the proposed change of use to self catering apartments, it looks as if “luxury hotel” idea fell by the wayside prior to October 2013?

    One important date absent from the OHTIA letter is Tues 4 Feb 2014, the date the Council posted notice of its own planning application on its own planning portal with an expiry date for objections/comments of 26 February, a determination date of 3 April, and an actual committee date of 15 April. Unfortunately, OHTIA did not bring this key date to members attention. Placing an objection to listed building consent on behalf of members would enable the industry and its members to speak with one voice to the developer, the lead conservation body, and its funders. OHTIA had the time and the staff to lodge an objection on behalf of members and chose not to do so – why? OHTIA’s failure to engage with this matter until now, after the planning deadline is interesting. I would urge anyone to lodge an objection for consideration even though it is after the planning deadline. I did not see the advertisement for the planning application and am not aware it was advertised.The idea that everyone including councillors were kept in the dark about this proposal for self catering apartments is questionable – there must have been a number of meetings with key partners and within the Council prior to this, to reach the point at which the listed building consent to create self catering apartments to suit a particular commercial operator were sought:

  28. Let’s not lose sight of what this is about.
    Its about a unilateral decision taken by a collective of public bodies using public funds, steered by amateur entrepreneurs, whose salaries are derived largely also from public funds, to refloat their sunken plans by means of displacing privately funded, rival businesses.
    It bares all the hallmarks of panic; a last ditch resort, clumsily executed and takes no account of collateral damage. Solving a problem at other peoples’ expense.
    A form of State funded vandalism?

    1. John Gibson, I am and feel sure many others are in agreement with you. I would not wish to deflect attention away from the key decision makers in respect of the change of use of Lews Castle, but the fact is OHTIA were furnished with this info 6 months ago and have been content to wait until now to protest, and only now because they have been prompted by the unwelcome exposure Graham Maclennan has taken the time to give this matter.

  29. you guys should call a meeting at the town hall, and invite everybody, Band B owners, self catering owners, restaurant owners, all the local business groups and….. ALL politicians including the MSP and MP…..

    i see the the Natural Retreats Group have come out with their 5 star proposal….this is trying to pull wool over our eyes……5 star self catering????? never heard of it……its only words to appease the local people to get planning through……

  30. Folks, having recently visited the site in the position of a contractor I would suggest as follows. This was my first visit to Stornoway and I can’t wait to get back. On my return home my wife asked ” we’ll what was it like”. After showing her photos I had taken (mainly of the castle) she announced her determination to come with me the next time. I explained it is a building site and she couldn’t get on the site. Not good enough to dissuade her from letting me know she would find plenty to look at and visit when we are there (she had researched for 5 minutes on the internet). What ever you folk end up with, support and promote it. Your on a winner. Get your local bookmaker to lay odds and I’ll be happy to take his money. The negative attitudes wether right or wrong will only damage your prospects. See you soon.

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