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Caithness & North Sutherland
Troubleshooter Targets Tourism
Roy Kirk has not let the grass grow under his feet since moving to Thurso to start work in a new post created as part of the drive to diversify the local economy away from its long-established dependence on Dounreay. Tourism is one of the growth areas and Roy is particularly keen to break the long-standing impasse on cashing in on the international renown of John O'Groats.
Peter de Savary's purchase of John O'Groats House Hotel in the late 1980s was the first in a succession of abortive schemes to redevelop the end-of-the-road site. Locals have understandably become cynical of blueprints as the run-down hotel, overlooking the Pentland Firth, continues to function solely as a bar. Mr Kirk said: "There are real opportunities to capitalise on the international brand that John O'Groats is and to make it better than it is. I will be working with the local community, public agencies and the private sector - whether equity, developers or investors - to see how we can improve things."
In his new role, Mr Kirk can call on contacts he made over the past three years when he specialised in tourism while working in the Locate in Scotland inward investment agency. Apart from his interest in the redevelopment of John O'Groats, he will be trying to lure established names in the holiday and leisure industry to the Far North.
Mr Kirk is aware that a sizeable number of tourists pass through Caithness on their way to and from Orkney. As well as courting major investors, developers and tourism operators, he will be speaking to estate owners and other landowners about the availability of potential development sites.
Mr Kirk's remit for inward investment is wide-ranging and he is determined to leave no stone unturned. Other priority areas include service industry ventures, renewable energy, engineering, and food and drink. Mr Kirk said that development agencies should never lose sight of the motivation of potential developers. "There are three reasons that interest businesses coming to a particular area - money, money and money," he explained. "At the end of the day, the company has to see the bottom-line effect." He said: "It's another newly-created job which is fine with me as no-one can say, 'This is the way you must do it.' I also come into without any baggage, which I think is a real advantage. The only thing I want to be measured by is results, and I'll soon be setting out specific targets."
Glasgow-born Mr Kirk, who is to have administrative back-up, is renting a house in Thurso but is on the lookout to buy a property for himself and his wife Elizabeth. The couple, who have four grown-up children, are moving from their home in East Calder, near Edinburgh. The partnership has still to appoint a co-ordinator.