Defence Minister Mark Francois has moved to calm fears over public access at Cape Wrath in the event that the Ministry of Defence succeed in their attempt to buy the whole peninsula.
This wild area at the far north west tip of the Scottish mainland already plays host to a bombing range, the only one in the UK where live rounds are fired. Hitherto - firing permitting - it has been possible to reach the lighthouse at the Cape - a popular tourist attraction - and various hills, bothies, sea stacks and cliffs (including the highest sea cliffs on the British Mainland).
Land owned by the Northern Lighthouse Board at the tip of the Cape is currently up for sale, and the nearby community at Durness have already put in a bid under the Land Reform Scotland Act. A decision on this by the Scottish Government is pending. If this fails then the MoD have declared an interest in buying the 58-acre property to add to their ranges.
Community representatives at Durness and wild land campaigners such as the John Muir Trust have expressed concern that an MoD buyout would lead to the area being closed to the public; indeed the Minister had suggested as much himself (see UKH news here).
But now in a letter to constituency MP John Thurso, Minister Mark Francois seems to have softened his tone, categorically promising that under MoD ownership there would be no plan to permanently close the Cape, or to limit public access any more than at present.
In the letter he says:
'I can confirm that, should the community right-to-buy application be unsuccessful and if the Ministry of Defence is then successful in purchasing the land owned by the Northern Lighthouse Board, it would be used for training purposes. This would mean that for reasons of health and safety any access by the local community would be precluded – but only whilst live firing is taking place.'
'However, I can reassure you that there are no plans to restrict public access any further than present arrangements, or to permanently close the land to the public.'