Defence Minister Mark Francois has allayed fears over public access to Cape Wrath on the north-west coast of Scotland should the MoD succeed in its bid to own the entire peninsula, where it conducts bomb exercises.
In a letter to constituency MP John Thurso, Mr Francois gave a categoric reassurance that there were no plans to permanently close the Cape or restrict public access any further than it was already.
Durness Community Council chairman Kevin Crowe, who has led a campaign to retain access to Cape Wrath lighthouse, which is seen as an important tourist attraction, said it was “excellent” news.
A meeting had been due to take place between community councillors and MoD officials in Durness on Monday to discuss the issue.
The MoD currently owns 25,000 acres of the region – almost the entire headland apart from a square mile parcel of land surrounding the lighthouse, located on the north-west tip.
Cape Wrath is regularly used for military exercises, and its bombing range is the only site in Europe where live 1,000 lbs bombs can be dropped.
Public access is normally restricted for up to 120 days a year for war exercises.
News of the MoD’s bid to purchase the land surrounding the lighthouse only emerged in September last year after the Durness community renewed a right-to-buy interest in the same piece of land under land reform legislation.
The Northern Lighthouse Board then revealed that it was in the middle of negotiations to sell to the MoD.
However, the sale was halted pending the outcome of the community’s right-to-buy application, and a campaign was launched to retain access.
An online petition, which now has 2,000 signatures, was also started.
Fears intensified in December when Mr Francois sent a letter to the community saying that access to the Cape would be “precluded” for reasons of health and safety should their right-to-buy bid fail.
In a subsequent letter sent to Mr Thurso, Mr Francois apologised for any “confusion or anxiety” his previous letter might have caused.
He states: “I can confirm that, should the community right-to-buy application be unsuccessful and if the Ministry of Defence is then successful in purchasing the land owned by the Northern Lighthouse Board, it would be used for training purposes. This would mean that for reasons of health and safety any access by the local community would be precluded – but only whilst live firing is taking place.
“However, I can reassure you that there are no plans to restrict public access any further than present arrangements, or to permanently close the land to the public.”
Kevin Crowe said: “It’s excellent news that, following our campaign to maintain access to Cape Wrath, Mark Francois has now retracted the statement in his first letter, and is now guaranteeing that public access will continue at its present level.”
John Thurso said: “I am delighted that the minister has not only made clear he never intended to suggest any change to public access to Cape Wrath, but has also given much greater assurances than have existed before.