A COMMUNITY buy-out of Staffin Harbour development has taken a historic step forward, following the award of a national grant.

Staffin Community Trust has secured crucial funding support via the Scottish Land Fund to purchase the current slipway and adjacent area from Highland Council and Scottish Ministers.

It comes 120 years after the original slipway was built by the Congested Districts Board and it was a lifeline for Staffin people with essential supplies then being delivered by boat.

The harbour remains integral to the Staffin community as a key source of fish and seafood and supports jobs, whilst being a recreational asset for local people and visitors whether it is fishing off the rocks, walking or swimming. However, the current slipway is dependent on the tide and there is no power, water connection or on-shore amenities such as fuel or toilets.

SCT's board of directors and a dedicated harbour steering group of local residents and slipway users has been working for several years to develop the harbour, with £2.3million of project funding secured to date. That has so far resulted in the major improvements to the harbour access road during the enabling works and design work on the electricity connection to the area.

SCT's plans - which have full planning permission - include upgrading the existing Staffin slipway, constructing a new breakwater, installing pontoons, building storage sheds, toilets and a harbour manager's office.

SCT chairman Donald MacDonald said the funding award further illustrated the confidence that major funders have in the development's benefits. "This is a transformational project that will bring economic and social benefits to the community for generations, and could not be achieved without external financial support, " he said. "We are delighted to have received this award from the Scottish Land Fund and particularly want to thank the staff for their support and guidance."

Sandra Holmes, the head of community assets at Highlands and Islands Enterprise, said the Staffin Harbour project, and others across Scotland, were great examples of local people taking control of local resources for the long-term benefit of their communities. "All these projects will help retain the population, attract visitors and create jobs," she said. "Ownership will give the communities greater control over important assets that will reap rewards for people now and for generations to come."

The SLF grant is for £116,064. Out of that total, there is £30,000 for SCT to purchase the slip and area from the current landlords, after the assets were inspected by the District Valuer. The grant also covers SCT's legal fees to complete the purchase formalities and there is funding to allow SCT to employ a harbour manager on a two year-contract.

The new breakwater will create a sheltered haven that can be used by local and visiting boats, all year round. The enhanced slipway will allow boats to operate at any state of the tide, and make it safer for vehicles to access. The gradient of the new slipway will also make it easier to launch and recover boats. Pontoons will provide local boats with safe berths that can be used 12 months of the year, and opportunities for visiting leisure craft to tie up for the night.

SCT is investigating other potential capital funding at present. The project funders to date include the Regeneration Capital Grant Fund, Fisheries Harbours Assistance, Marine Fisheries Fund, the Scottish Land Fund and Organic Sea Harvest.

The Congested Districts Board was set up by the UK Government to bring about major fishing and agriculture improvements to crowded and poverty-stricken communities in the Highlands and Islands. The old stone slipway and a store was constructed by local men to allow freight to be delivered. Before its construction there was nowhere to store the cargo from the boats, which delivered supplies between Glasgow and the islands.

In 2000, HRH The Princess Royal opened the extended Highland Council-owned slip and a new breakwater. The improved slipway and access road was SCT's flagship capital project at a cost of £350,000, with the final £10,000 required raised in only four weeks by the community.

Breakwater opening in 2000.