Historic Scotland criticised over ruin

THE millionaire determined to restore a ruined Highland castle has launched a bitter attack on Historic Scotland, the agency which blocked his dream.

Lex Brown is pursuing court action against the body over his 4.5 million proposal to rebuild the 13th century Castle Tioram in Moidart to its condition prior to 1715, when it was torched by a clan chief to stop it falling into enemy hands.

Yesterday, it emerged that Historic Scotland - which twice turned down Mr Brown’s proposals to turn the ruin into a home and clan museum - was facing a review of its operations.

Although Historic Scotland is overdue for an overhaul, it is felt its handling of the Castle Tioram saga has led to the Executive pressing for a review now.

Mr Brown said: "A review of this maverick organisation is well overdue. These self-appointed, so-called experts work without any accountability, ignoring everyone and everything else.

"Unless you can afford prohibitively expense legal action there is simply no way to appeal and I have received massive support from other people in Scotland who are simply fed up by the way Historic Scotland make wholly unjustifiable decisions behind closed doors."

The decision was also welcomed by Rhoda Grant, a Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, who campaigned for a review of the agency.

She said she was appalled at the way Historic Scotland acted over the redevelopment of Castle Tioram, branding it judge, jury and executioner.

Ms Grant added: "Historic Scotland has not covered itself in glory over the position it took over Castle Tioram and what has become clear to me since I became involved in the issue is that Tioram is not the only case where the organisation has blocked redevelopment proposals for reasons best known to itself.

"I am hopeful that a root and branch review will take place looking at the performance of the agency and the way it is set up."

Mr Brown’s company, Anta Estates, purchased the castle, the ancient seat of the Lord of the Isles, the Clan MacDonald, when it was put on the market in 1997 for 100,000 by its former owner, Wiseman Macdonald from California, who bought it in the 1920s.

Mr Brown’s plans to reroof the structure and build a home for himself and a public museum were backed by Highland Council, but Historic Scotland objected to the granting of scheduled monument consent, which was essential to the project going ahead. The agency said at the time that the proposals were detrimental to both the historic fabric of the monument and its cultural significance.

A public inquiry lasting 30 days was held and in February, the Scottish Executive backed the decision to refuse permission.

Following a meeting called by the council to try to resolve the situation, amid fears that the castle would suffer a major collapse, Anta Estates submitted revised proposals in May in an effort to address the concerns of the inquiry reporter.

However, Historic Scotland sent back the new plan, saying it was "essentially the same" as the application that had been debated at the inquiry.

Mr Brown, who lodged a Court of Session action in an effort to get the original refusal overturned, also considered seeking a judicial review of the latest decision although this was later dropped.

Anta estimates it has spent more than 1 million to date on urgent repairs and research on the history of the castle and Eilean Tirim, the island on which is stands.

The company has recently lost insurance cover for the castle and, because of its condition, has been quoted a figure of 10,000 a year to insure it in future, provided it is fenced off to the public.

The castle attracts about 15,000 visitors a year and it is hoped that public access can be maintained in future.

A spokesman for Historic Scotland said: "We can confirm there will be a review of Historic Scotland. We welcome this review which we see very much as an opportunity. No timescale has been set and at this stage we do not know who will carry out the review."