“WHAT the hell can be done to make this castle not a liability but an asset?”

The question of what to do with Kinloch Castle, the Victorian-era former pleasure palace on the isle of Rum, has been forced back onto the agenda.

NatureScot, the government agency which owns the castle, had been in talks to sell it to the multi-millionaire Brexiteer and political donor Jeremy Hosking.

But over the weekend, Hosking pulled out of the reported £10 million deal, blaming in particular the “anarchist” Government minister Lorna Slater. Restoration work is estimated at double that, reaching as high as £20m.

READ MORE: I live on Rum. Here's why its iconic castle should not be sold to one rich man

In November, Slater had listened to concerns from Rum residents and put the sale of the castle on hold – and there is some sense of relief from islanders that that deal is now off the table altogether.

“What he was going to do to the building was going to destroy this community, we felt,” Steve Robertson, a development officer with the Isle of Rum Community Trust (IRCT), told The National.

There were fears that the castle sale would have split the community-owned village of Kinloch in half, as well as put huge strain on the local energy capacity.

Broadcaster Lesley Riddoch said that Hosking would have continued a “destructive absentee tradition” for the castle, which was built between 1897-1900 by the Victorian playboy George Bullough, the son of a textile magnate.

But with the Brexiteer’s bid off the table, what’s next for Kinloch Castle? Robertson says that inspiration could be found elsewhere.

One idea is to let it fall slowly to ruin. The 16th-century Slains Castle in Aberdeenshire provides a template.

Sitting on the coast north of Aberdeen, the castle was left to ruin in 1925 when the roof was removed to avoid paying tax, and is now free to explore.

SNP president Michael Russell, who has a keen interest in the future of Kinloch Castle said that selling it to Hosking in order to create a tourist destination was a “solution from the past”. He has also suggested a “process of curated decay” as one possible solution.

But NatureScot has said that “will still come at a cost to the public purse of around £1 million”.

READ MORE: Isle of Rum could be Hebridean jewel for new residents

Another location Robertson says could provide an example is Astley Castle in Warwickshire, where an ambitious redevelopment scooped the prestigious RIBA Stirling Prize for Architecture in 2013.

The castle’s website says the modern accommodation, which sleeps eight and can be rented out for around £1400 for four nights, was designed to be “clasped within the shell of the ancient castle”.

And Robertson also points to Tonedale Mill, Tone Works, and Fox’s Field sites in Wellington, Somerset. There a mixed approach is being taken to redevelopment, with bids to create allotments, sports pitches, a community farm, and a community forest.

However, there may be legal hurdles. Historic Environment Scotland (HES) – which has said the site presents “outstanding” levels of natural and archaeological importance and a “high” level of architectural importance – said that national planning policy and other factors would need to be thought of for the A-listed building.

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The IRCT is calling for a funded position to allow someone the resource to pull together all of the different strands and interested parties and find a way forward.

A spokesperson for the Rum trust said: “We are committed to finding the best possible future for Kinloch Castle within the context of heritage, community empowerment and net zero. We hope the community will be fully involved in future decisions and we stand ready to play a full and active part in this.

“Despite our small population, there are lots of other exciting community things happening on Rum which fully demonstrate our enthusiasm and capabilities. For example, in the last two weeks, we have taken over the village shop and are running it as a community initiative.

“We are pleased to see the commitment of NatureScot and the Scottish Government to working with the community to achieve a sustainable long-term future for Rum. We feel we need to be creative and learn from others as to what the future of the castle could look like and we are building a strong team to take this forward.”

The National: Michael Russell, the former SNP MSP and Scottish government minister pictured in Argyll.

  Photograph by Colin Mearns
3 July 2021

SNP president Michael Russell (above) told The National: “The sale of the castle to an individual who wanted to make it a tourist destination was a solution from the past.

"What is needed now is one that looks to the future and treats the castle not as a liability for Nature Scot but as a potential asset for the community. Whether that is through a process of curated decay or whether there can be a purchaser found whose interests will be more in line with those of the community isn’t clear yet.

“I am sorry there appear to be some recriminations from the former prospective purchaser but this is in my view the right outcome and now has to be used as a spur to a solution which will enhance the prospects for the living community on what is a unique and special place.”

A spokesperson for Historic Environment Scotland (HES) said: “We have had discussions with IRCT and NatureScot to provide advice and support in terms of the heritage considerations for future uses of Kinloch Castle.

“This included providing further information on alterations to A-listed buildings, which is part of national planning policy, and where the local authority, in this case Highland Council, would be the decision maker for planning and listed building consent matters.

“We emphasised and continue to support the need for structured dialogue between all parties involved in Kinloch to further explore common ground and opportunities for long term use for the building.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government and NatureScot remain focused on securing a sustainable future for Kinloch Castle and the opportunities that could bring to the Isle of Rum.

“Proactive community consultation and participation is key to determining the future of the castle. The Biodiversity Minister welcomes the work of the Isle of Rum Community Trust (IRCT), in partnership with the Scottish Land Commission (SLC) and NatureScot on the future governance of Kinloch Castle.

"The Minister intends to meet with them to discuss this work when it is complete. She is also happy to meet with any potential buyers at the right point in the process.”

A NatureScot spokesperson said: “We are disappointed that Mr Hosking has taken the decision to withdraw his proposal to buy Kinloch Castle. NatureScot will continue to work with all parties to seek new arrangements for the castle that will provide long-term benefits to the island of Rum.”