£7m John o' Groats plan keeps on going to end of the road

WORK could start later this year on the latest plans to give John o' Groats a facelift to match its status as a tourist magnet.

• John o' Groats attracts lots of visitors, for just ten minutes

For years the end-of-the-road destination has been trying to shake off its "ghost ship" image to offer visitors better facilities.

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Each year, the village attracts about 112,000 people who spend up to 700,000, but it has been claimed they stay on average just ten minutes and that income could be trebled.

Yesterday Heritage Great Britain, which also owns Land's End, and luxury short break specialist Natural Retreats, unveiled provisional plans for the resort costing 6.5 million-7m.

They include renovating and extending the landmark John o' Groats Hotel, bought by Heritage GB in 1996 but which has been closed for a decade.

The upgraded hotel will include 18 new apartments, while 22 three-bedroom luxury self-catering lodges will be built as well as a new visitor centre.

Their plans are due to come before Highland Council next month and, if approved, this phase of work could be opened in spring 2012. Developers say up to 30 jobs will be created during construction and another ten to 20 full and part-time posts to manage and operate the site.

• Top design: An artist's impression of the proposed hotel redevelopment, with luxury lodges

Natural Retreats' director Ewan Kearney said: "We are committed to developing and operating a successful and high quality leisure development which incorporates sustainable, environmentally-friendly construction alongside cutting-edge design features to create a new vision for John o' Groats, which will ultimately revitalise the area and attract visitors to this iconic destination."

Allan Leech, chief executive of Heritage GB, said both firms were keen to consult with the community. He added: "We believe the proposals will deliver an exciting new concept and promise ongoing social, economic and employment benefits for John o' Groats and beyond."

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Natural Retreats, which was involved in redeveloping exclusive celebrity haunt Ackergill Tower in Wick 20 years ago, also runs a site in the Yorkshire Dales.

Last year, Highlands and Islands Enterprise commissioned consultants GVA Grimley to create a masterplan for a tourist attraction.

It included proposals to create a quality coastal village over 15 to 20 years to capitalise on the area's landscape and heritage at a cost of up to 15m.

This could include building a new harbour square, commercial units, a focal-point artwork, a play area and an upgrade of the Last House Museum and a third hotel.

John Green, chairman of the local community council, said: "It would be quite exciting if it goes ahead. It will be a big improvement to facilities at John o' Groats."