• Parcel of land next to lighthouse designed by grandfather of Robert Louis Stevenson closer to community buyout
• First Minister Alex Salmond welcomes move as Paul Wheelhouse approves bid to take over 111-acre site at Cape Wrath
Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse has approved Durness Development Group’s bid to register interest in taking over the 111-acre site at Cape Wrath in the north-west Highlands – which was at risk of becoming a bombing range.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) had been interested in adding some of the land to the 25,000 acres it already owns in the area.
Writer Robert Louis Stevenson’s grandfather, also Robert, designed the lighthouse at Cape Wrath, a landmark famous for its 900ft-high cliffs.
Thousands of walkers and tourists visit it every year, despite being difficult to reach.
First Minister Alex Salmond has welcomed the latest development, claiming it marked a step towards the Scottish government’s new target of a million acres of land in community control by 2020.
Mr Salmond added: “If the community is able to go ahead and successfully purchase the land, it will secure a stronger local economy for the people of Durness and preserve one of Scotland’s iconic landscapes for generations to come.
“Put bluntly, we would see more benefits for the local area rather than more land for bombing - the principal use the rest of the Cape is put to by the MoD.”
Kevin Arrowsmith of the Durness Development Group said: “We are very pleased indeed. This is the decision we have all been waiting for.”
The group hopes to identify the economic benefit of Cape Wrath as a popular visitor attraction.
The surrounding land at Cape Wrath is an important training area for the armed forces.
Live firing by the British Army, Royal Navy and RAF takes place on parts of the land owned by the MoD.
Last month, the ministry dropped its interest in buying the land near the lighthouse.
The MoD had proposed using it to create new artillery and mortar positions and troop accommodation.
Durness Development Group had sought to prevent the sale and applied to register its interest in acquiring the land.
The group claimed historic buildings, such as a ruined signal station, would be demolished and the public would also be prevented from using spectacular cliff paths if the MoD got the land.
Rob Gibson SNP MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross has welcomed the inclusion of Durness Development Group in the register of community interest.
Mr Gibson, who had lobbied on behalf of the community, said: “I am delighted that the Scottish government has confirmed the Durness bid is competent and legitimate.
“The earlier admission by the MoD that they no longer had an interest in purchase of the land to expand their bombing range helped clear the way.
“It is all the more satisfying that the Westminster controlled Northern Lighthouse Board will now receive an offer to take these valuable hectares into local hands. The Durness economy requires a Cape Wrath plan to boost year round visitors.
“I notice in passing that the complexity of the land reform legislation passed in 2003 has slowed down the process of registration.
“This is yet another area of legislation that must be simplified in the current round of post legislative scrutiny in the hands of the Land Reform Review Group. Community groups such as the Durness Development Group need to have an easier passage to gain a foothold on the land they seek for economic, social and environmental reasons.
“Since the recently announced Scottish National Trail reaches its north point at Cape Wrath Durness can gear up for more visitors and improving the facilities at the Cape is long overdue.”
Mr Salmond added: “ Land reform can bring real transformational change to communities across Scotland.
“It has always been one of the principles of Scotland that land belongs to the people,
the action we are taking to simplify the system of community buy outs and the additional
£3 million support we are providing to the land fund we will help drive to forward the
enthusiasm shown by so many communities keen to take responsibility for local land
Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse said: “ I am pleased to approve Durness Development Group’s application. Community ownership is the best way forward for Cape Wrath, the northern destination of the Scottish National Trail, which begins hundreds of miles south at Kirk Yetholm on the Scottish border.”
“By improving the relationship between our land and people, we can create stronger communities and deliver the economic growth and fairer society that the people of Scotland quite rightly expect.”
Cape Wrath used to have a full-time community of 35 people until the 1930s.
The lighthouse was built by the grandfather of Robert Louis Stevenson and is currently owned by the Northern Lighthouse Board.
It includes the Lloyd’s buildings signal station, a rare survivor of a formerly extensive series of installations around the coast.