THE laird of Colonsay has put the remote island’s only pub and hotel on the market for £545,000.
Eight years after saving The Colonsay from closure, Alex Howard, who co-owns the business with three friends, has told locals it is up for sale.
Now the 120-strong community is investigating whether it is feasible for them to buy the business, which is crucial to the island’s fragile tourism-based economy.
The nearest pub to Colonsay is in Oban, which is two hours and 20 minutes away on the ferry. The only alternative is a 15-minute plane journey to visit a pub on Islay.
When a downturn in the economy prompted the laird to announce that the bar was to close temporarily last winter, the community rented it for three months to keep the festive cheer flowing over Christmas.
Now they must decide whether to go one step further and try for a community buyout of the nine-bedroom hotel, restaurant and bar.
David Johnston, chairman of the island steering group, said: “We have formed a committee under the auspices of the island development company to look at the possibility of putting together a bid. It’s at a very early stage at the moment – we are just looking at the possibility.”
The laird has told residents the partnership, which is understood to have paid over £400,000 for the business in 2005, would be willing to consider a community buyout bid.
Mr Johnston said: “There was a very well-attended public meeting when about 40 people turned up – that’s about half of all those on the electoral register – and that is where the steering committee was formed.”
He added: “It’s for sale for £545,000, but I think it will be some time before we know if we will be in a position to put together a bid.”
The economy of Colonsay is heavily reliant on self-catering tourism and having a hotel, restaurant and pub is seen as vital to attracting visitors.
Mr Johnston said: “We obviously would like to get the hotel into community control if that is the best way of achieving what the island needs.”
Islander Andrew MacGregor said: “There was a firm belief at the public meeting that the hotel was needed. I don’t think anyone would disagree with that.
“When the community rented the bar last winter, the bar had a turnover of £25,000 in three months – it did well.”
The island was left without a pub just before Christmas 2004, when former owner Christine McNeill closed it, leaving the island high and dry over the festive season.
Three months later, the laird, who is the son of Lord Strathcona, saved the day when he bought it with a partnership of friends, including London wine expert Dan Jago, chef and food writer Hugo Arnold, of Dublin, and an unnamed London businessman.
Colonsay Estate, which is owned by the laird, officially informed locals, on behalf of the hotel partnership, that the former drover’s inn, which dates back to 1750, was being marketed for sale by Christie’s.
Mr Howard was not available for comment yesterday, but his wife Jane said: “We have built it up to a really good, healthy business.
“It’s a real opportunity for a couple to take over, but we are happy to sell it to the community if they are interested. We are completely supportive of the community putting in an offer.”