Public consultation and local business support the creation of visitor centre.
Plans to develop a national tourism attraction at Inverness Castle have been backed by the public and local businesses.
The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS), which currently occupies the building, has announced plans to leave the iconic castle building for a new purpose-built justice centre.
A recently completed public consultation received more than 200 responses. It found the large majority:
• Support the creation of a museum and a gallery at the castle site
• Want to see a free attraction
• Broadly do not support turning the castle into a hotel or other tourist accommodation
Although tourism is a key part of the local economy – worth £61million in 2014 – there is currently no major attraction in the city.
Tourism Minister Fergus Ewing, who co-chairs the Inverness Castle working group with Highland Council, met with local business operators in Inverness on Friday, February 5. The businesses expressed their support for the plan. A development group will now be set up with a view to the attraction opening in the early 2020s.
Mr Ewing said:
"We want to see a new life for the castle that builds on its existing attraction, offering visitors and locals alike a quality offering that encourages tourists to both visit and stay longer in the city.
"I welcome the results of this consultation and the feedback I have received from tourism operators in the Inverness area. Tourism is not just a key part of the local economy but a key driver of growth across Scotland and I am very keen that Inverness Castle finds a new life that benefits the Highlands and Scotland as a whole."
Freda Newton, managing director of tourism operator Loch Ness by Jacobite – who took part in the business roundtable – said:
"The redevelopment of Inverness Castle is an exciting opportunity for tourism in the Highlands. The castle is in a fantastic position overlooking the banks of the River Ness and it does really need to be open to the public, allowing visitors and locals alike to learn more about the history and culture of the Highlands and take in the stunning vista from the castle and its grounds. Opening up the site in this way would help to strengthen the city's tourism offering and act as an additional asset to the Highlands as a tourism destination."
Leader of the Council Cllr Margaret Davidson said:
"I am delighted to see that there has been a good response to the consultation. The recent announcement of the building of a new Justice Centre brings the development of a focal tourist attraction at Inverness Castle a step closer to reality. This is really a very exciting time for Inverness and heralds new investment and a boost for local business, tourism and jobs."
Minister for Business, Energy and Tourism, Fergus Ewing co-chairs the Inverness Castle Working Group, which was formed in 2014 to consider the future use of Inverness Castle as a tourist attraction, maximising its iconic status in the heart of the city to the benefit of the local economy. Membership of the working group also includes the SCTS, VisitScotland, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Historic Scotland and the Inverness Chamber of Commerce.
The full public consultation, which closed late last month, is still being analysed and the full range of responses will be presented to the next Inverness Castle Working Group later this year.