John O'Groats parking charges raised more than £21,000 in first three months
Parking charges for visitors to John O'Groats raised over £21,000 within the first three months of being introduced.
The money will help fund projects to enhance the village, boosting its appeal to tourists and making it more attractive for locals.
The three-month figure was confirmed this week by Heritage GB and the John O'Groats Development Trust, two of the bodies behind the initiative. Others involved are the Dunnet and Canisbay Community Council and local business representatives.
It is hoped that next year around £40,000 will be raised.
Allan Leech, chief executive of Heritage GB, which leases the main car park in the village from Highland Council, is delighted by the success of the scheme. He explained that the £2 charge for visitors had been introduced at the end of July and by the end of October had raised more than £21,000.
Caithness residents are exempt from paying the fee if they display a permit.
After VAT and other deductions for the phased repayment of machinery and equipment, almost £16,000 will be available for use in projects to improve the area. Improved signs, using Caithness stone, and the creation of a play park will be among the schemes due to be completed by next spring.
There are also plans to enhance the experience for those who complete the end-to-end journey between Land's End and John O'Groats, improve the look of the famous signpost and create a memorial to those who lost their lives at sea, including those on the Aberdeen trawler George Robb 60 years ago.
The stone structure will have a bench in the middle of it, looking out to sea. The foghorn from Duncansby Head lighthouse is being done up and will form part of the memorial.
In the longer term, there are plans to carry out environmental improvements around the area. The cash from the parking charge will be used for these initiatives but other sources of funding will be needed as well.
Mr Leech said the projects funded by the charges are decided by a group comprising Heritage GB, the development trust, the community council and business representatives.
"We are being open and transparent about this, and all the money – after machinery and VAT deductions – will be used to enhance the area and its appeal to visitors and locals," he said. "The scheme has been working incredibly well and there has been no detrimental impact. It is really important that visitors and locals see changes from the projects we are funding."
Mr Leech is "very confident" that around £40,000 can be raised from the parking fees next season which will run from the end of March until October.
Andrew Mowat, treasurer of the John O'Groats Development Trust, said: "I am not aware of any negative effects. The charging has not caused any problems.
"Everybody is working together to make this work. We hope the various projects will encourage people to extend their stay here and benefit businesses and the wider area."