Parking charge hailed as driving force for change at John O'Groats
UP to £30,000 a year could be raised to enhance the John O'Groats area by introducing parking charges for motorists.
The figure was given yesterday by Allan Leech, chief executive of Heritage GB, whose company has the lease of the car park in the main part of the village.
The business leases the facility from Highland Council and has just received consent to charge £2 for vehicles. The aim was to have the scheme running by May but Mr Leech now hopes it will be operational by July.
The charges will be incurred from April to October each year.
Negotiations about the charge started last October and involved Highland Council, the local community council, John O'Groats Development Trust and local business representatives.
The idea is to charge £2 for visitors with an exemption for local people and coaches in a bid to raise money to improve the area and enhance the experience for the tourist.
"One hundred per cent of the money raised will be used to improve the look and feel of John O'Groats," he said. "It is a world-famous site and gets around 150,000 visitors a year, although that is likely to rise to 200,000 with the popularity of the North Coast 500.
"We hope to generate between £20,000 and £30,000 a year and that's a hell of a lot of money to spend improving the area. It's a great way to create funding for John O'Groats and everyone will benefit from the enhancement of the area."
Mr Leech stressed that a small committee, comprising Heritage GB, the community council, the development trust and local businesses will decide how the money is spent.
"A lot of people and businesses have invested in this site so it is good that money can be raised from a small car-parking charge to benefit the area," he said.
One hundred per cent of the money raised will be used to improve the look and feel of John O'Groats.
Asked if he felt there may be resistance to the charges, Mr Leech replied: "I think most tourists have experience of paying for parking elsewhere. It is accepted at other places we operate and by sites run by other organisations.
"It will only £2 to stay all day and when people see what it is being used for I don't think there will be a problem."
Andrew Mowat, who runs the Seaview Hotel in John O'Groats, backs the idea and hopes the funding can help turn the public area in the village into "a world-class venue".
"The money will go a long way to help fund lots of projects that are going on in the background and will really start to help transform the area for locals and visitors alike," he said. "As there will be no charge for Caithness residents we can all start to enjoy a better experience when we visit Groats once the money starts to be allocated to projects."
Heritage GB sites include Land's End, the Snowdon Mountain Railway in Wales and the Needles on the Isle of Wight.