A THURSO eyesore site may soon be transformed as a major hospitality company sets its sights on building a four-storey hotel on the town’s former mart area.
Whitbread is seeking permission for a new Premier Inn on the waste ground adjacent to Ormlie Road that has lain derelict for many years.
A planning application for a four-storey, 81-bedroom hotel with landscaping and car parking has been submitted to Highland Council. If approved, it would be the most northerly Premier Inn hotel in the UK.
Local Highland councillor Karl Rosie described it as “tremendous news” for Thurso.
“The site condition has been problematic for a number of years and, being adjacent to the railway station and Thurso High School, is in a prominent location,” he said.
“I firmly believe this can now be the catalyst for the regeneration of the town centre and the development of the site will provide a range of benefits in terms of visual and direct impact for the local economy.”
Whitbread, which owns Premier Inn, is making a multimillion-pound investment in the development of the proposed Premier Inn. The new hotel is expected to create around 30 new year-round jobs, with “recruitment to be focused in Thurso and the surrounding areas”.
The site was previously owned by Tesco, which was given planning consent by the council in August 2007 to build a new store to replace its current branch at Millbank Road. But the supermarket giant’s plans never became a reality and the project was scrapped.
In 2015 Tesco sold the land to London and Scottish Investments (LSI) which also bought 13 other sites across the country where Tesco had planned to build new supermarkets before dropping its plans.
The lack of development of the land had attracted criticism from residents and community representatives over the past decade, with the area regarded as an eyesore.
It will now be purchased from LSI by a private investor that is also looking at other uses for the remainder of the site. Details will be made public as plans advance, Whitbread said.
Whitbread says it is “looking to expand its presence” in the Highlands and that the company has chosen to invest in Thurso on the “back of strong demand from leisure visitors to the north of Scotland”, including an increase in tourists resulting from the success of the North Coast 500 road trip, and the needs of local businesses connected to Dounreay.
Kevin Murray, head of acquisitions (north and Ireland) for Whitbread, said: “Our development partner has recently submitted a planning application to Highland Council for a brand new 81-bedroom Premier Inn hotel on the former mart site in Thurso. This would be the most northerly location of our hotels in the UK, and as you can imagine we are extremely excited about this application.
“If approved, the new Premier Inn hotel will help to support the local economy by attracting visitors to Thurso across all four seasons and creating approximately 30 new year-round jobs. Local businesses would also benefit from our presence as many of our guests visit local attractions and eat and drink out when they stay with us.”
Councillor Rosie said: “I feel that this is a marvellous opportunity for the town and, coupled with some of the recent initiatives across the county, should provide real optimism for the future of Caithness.
“My understanding is that negotiations for the purchase of the site by the new developer are scheduled for completion in mid-June and that a planning application has been lodged with Highland Council to build a Premier Inn hotel on the lower end of the site.”
A note of caution came from Trudy Morris of the Caithness Chamber of Commerce, however. She said: “We welcome investment in Thurso, particularly on the old mart site which has lain undeveloped for many years. However, while competition is healthy, we are concerned about the possible impact that this will have on our existing member hotels and accommodation providers within the area.
“While initiatives such as Venture North and the North Coast 500 have significantly increased tourist traffic to the area, and at times there is a need for additional bed spaces, there needs to be some consultation and discussion of impact. We hope that Premier Inn will consult closely with businesses and the local community prior to any development going ahead.”