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12 years and a few millions later, Lex Brown may soon be king of his castle

LEX Brown has spent 12 years and millions of pounds on his dream home, yet it still lies in ruins.

Since 1997, the millionaire businessman has been locked in a wrangle with Historic Scotland over the future of Castle Tioram in Moidart.

Mr Brown wants to renovate the castle, roof it and turn it into a house and clan museum. But the agency in charge of historic monuments wants it conserved as a ruin.

Hopes that the stalemate will finally be broken have been raised following a Scottish Government project seeking castles and tower-houses suitable for restoration and reuse. Last week, culture minister Michael Russell announced the first 17 buildings to feature in the Scottish Castles Initiative, which is being led by Historic Scotland.

Although Tioram is not on the initial list, Mr Brown told The Scotsman: "It's nice to see someone as enlightened as Michael Russell taking a fresh attitude to it. I have always had cross-party support for my plans.

"The political process has been there and at some point the dam will break. The civil servants cannot stem the weight of public and political opinion. They have to break and the time is now. It's just a matter of being patient."

He added: "I've always been irritated that unelected civil servants have dictated a policy that is not backed politically. But it can only be a matter of time now that the current minister is publicly backing restoration (of some castles] and Historic Scotland is clearly following. The vibes coming from the powers-that-be are very encouraging."

Mr Brown beat off competition from eight other parties – including a community-led group – to buy the castle when it was put on the market for 100,000 by Wiseman Macdonald, of California.

His restoration plans were backed by Highland Council, but Historic Scotland objected to the granting of scheduled monument consent, saying that the proposals were detrimental to both the historic fabric of the monument and its cultural significance.

A 30-day public inquiry, which Mr Brown called "flawed", refused permission, a decision backed by the then Scottish Executive in 2002. Revised proposals were also rejected.

Mr Brown initially said the work would take three to four years to complete and cost about 3.5million. That estimate has risen to over 10m. He said: "To date, I've spent a couple of million pounds. Some has gone on fees for minor consolidation work on the north wall after a collapse, but, by and large, the money has been spent on process, which has been entirely counter-productive. Very little has gone into local pockets, which is absolutely criminal."

Despite the drawn-out saga, Mr Brown has never wanted to give up. "It's too important to me," he says. "I've seen millions of castles all over the world, but none of them has the magic and meaning that Tioram has.

"It has been 12 years that we have not been able to enjoy the place. But we will see this through. I've never, ever doubted that it is going to happen."

He went on: "The amount of wasted time and money is irksome, but what has been really sad is the wasted opportunity."

Mr Russell said he could not comment specifically on the Tioram case.

However, the minister added: "What we are trying to do with our heritage is to say to people in Scotland that it is possible to take historic properties and make them into liveable and usable buildings.

"Moreover, it is not only possible, but we recognise that we need to make it easier for people to do so.

"Inevitably a regulator sometimes has to say 'no'. But the initiative we are taking with Scottish castles is very much in keeping with the government's view that regulation should be a positive and proactive thing, not a negative thing."

Peter Peacock, a Labour Highlands and Islands MSP, said the castles project represented a "welcome change of heart" by Historic Scotland.

But Ben Tindall, of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings in Scotland, said the public inquiry had come down strongly against Mr Brown's plans.

"As far as I know, there are no material changes of the circumstances," he said. "It's hard to see how these findings could be overturned by the Scottish Government's initiative."

ON THE BRINK

LEX Brown would be the first person to live in Castle Tioram (pronounced Cheerum) for nearly 300 years.

The landmark stands on the rocky tidal island Eilean Tioram (the Dry Island) where Loch Moidart and the river Shiel meet.

The massive curtain wall that protects it is thought to have been built in the 13th century. In the 14th century it became the seat of the chiefs of Clanranald, and remained in the family's possession until the early 20th century.

Due to Clanranald support for the Jacobite cause, Castle Tioram was garrisoned by government troops from 1692 and fell into disrepair.

In 1715 it was recaptured by Allan, the 14th chief, who is said to have ordered his own castle to be burnt to stop it again falling into enemy hands.

By 1748 it was described as an abandoned ruin.

In 2002, the castle was said to face the danger of major collapse within ten years. Mr Brown says its current condition is "dire".

 
 
 

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