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Public invited to share views on Orkney Gateway vision

Published: 07/09/2021

Local people are being asked for their feedback on options for the future management of the world-renowned Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site (WHS).

Feedback will be used to develop a final ‘Outline Business Case’ for ‘Islands Deal’ funding announced earlier this year by the UK and Scottish Governments for the Orkney World Heritage Site Gateway Programme  - or “the Orkney Gateway”.

This programme, which is aimed at providing a better and more sustainable experience for visitors and locals alike across the World Heritage Site, is being funded with joint investment of up to £6.5 million from the Scottish Government and UK Government (SG £5.5 million/UKG £1 million), as part of the Islands Growth Deal – a ten-year investment programme jointly funded by the UK and Scottish governments, the three Island Councils and their partners from the public, academic and business sectors.

The main partners in the Orkney Gateway programme are Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), Historic Environment Scotland (HES) and Orkney Islands Council (OIC).

The Heart of Neolithic Orkney WHS takes in a number of globally important ancient monuments and settlements including the world-famous Skara Brae, Ring of Brodgar, Stones of Stenness and Maeshowe chambered tomb – with individual sites managed variously by HES and OIC.

The Orkney Gateway Programme looks to introduce a range of co-ordinated initiatives across the World Heritage Site area such as improved signage, technology to monitor visitor numbers in real time and suggest alternative attractions, active travel routes and strategically placed ‘welcome’ facilities including e-bike chargers and public toilets to help encourage visitors to spend more time taking in the sights both within the WHS and further afield.

It’s also proposed to implement coach permits and charging at some car parks to generate income towards upkeep of the WHS and encourage take-up of walking and cycling between attractions.

Other key stakeholders in the WHS include NatureScot and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), as well as landowners, farmers, and the local community and tourism businesses, and University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) Archaeology Institute which manages the Ness of Brodgar.

Graeme Harrison, HIE area manager for Orkney, said: "We are very happy to partner with OIC and HES in this important programme. We share the ambition to secure the true sustainability of the World Heritage Site by managing footfall and encouraging greener forms of travel both within and between the sites.”

Orkney Islands Council Leader, James Stockan, says it’s ‘absolutely crucial’ that input from local residents is captured at this stage of the Programme to ensure their concerns and aspirations are also addressed:

“We know the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site is top of the list for many first-time visitors, and rightly so. With the exception of Maeshowe and Skara Brae, these utterly breathtaking sites are unticketed and free to visit.

“However managing visitors has increasingly been a challenge – overcrowding at peak periods has been an issue, and unfortunately as a result we see physical damage and degradation of the monuments or their surrounds such as erosion to paths and roadsides, and litter.

A consultation document has been developed which asks people for their feedback on the whole suite of options including the active travel network, destination management platform/technology, digital interpretation and ‘apps’, and parking, as well as options for an orientation and welcome centre.

The documents sets out this vision for better managing visitors around the WHS in a draft Outline Business Case, organised into four options. These are:

➢ Option 1 – do minimal – refresh signage and introduce car parking charges.

➢ Option 2 – Digital and Infrastructure  - all the above, plus significant upgrades to ‘active travel’ paths and connections supported by digital orientation and interpretation, and improvements to Brodgar car park including toilets, disabled bays, and electric bike charging points. There would be no visitor centre - instead, transit hubs, drop-offs, cycleways, and paths would act as gateways and orientation points for guests.

➢ Option 3 – Local Centre at Stenness Village – all the above, plus a small-scale centre with charged parking providing toilet facilities, orientation, ticketing and some interpretation, and possible small-scale/basic refreshment, with a seasonal shuttle and path network to access the sites.

➢ Option 4 – Adjacent Centre – all the measures in Option 2 plus a welcome centre directly adjacent to and ideally within walking distance of one or more of the sites, on a possible greenfield site along the B9055. Design of the centre would require careful consideration to ensure parking is not visible from the attractions and building sits well within the World Heritage Site scenery and landscape.

Among the possibilities considered in the past but rejected include an ‘Out of area centre’ which it was felt would be at risk of being bypassed completely by visitors, and development at Tormiston Mill where there are significant highways and road safety constraints and potential viability issues.

A Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) has been undertaken of the World Heritage Site Orkney Gateway Programme. The purpose of SEA is to ensure that environmental considerations are considered within the Programme, in accordance with the Environmental Assessment (Scotland) Act 2005. Members of the public are also invited to comment on the findings of the SEA which are presented in an Environmental Report.

Further information, including the Environmental Report and a consultation survey, can be found on the Council website at www.orkney.gov.uk/orkneygateway

The consultation period will be 6 weeks commencing 6 September.

There are also two in-person consultation events planned for early October:

  • Tuesday 5 October at Maeshowe Visitor Centre, Stenness from 17.00 – 21.00
  • Wednesday 6 October at St Magnus Centre, Kirkwall from 13.00 – 17.00

Comments and survey responses can be emailed to worldheritage@orkney.gov.uk 

Or in writing to: Orkney World Heritage Site Gateway Consultation, Development and Infrastructure, Orkney Islands Council, Council Offices, Kirkwall, Orkney KW15 1NY.

The closing date for feedback is 15 October 2021 at 5pm which will enable partners to revise and submit the final Outline Business Case for the Orkney Gateway Programme to the UK and Scottish Governments before Christmas 2021.

 

 

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