Ambitious garden centre plan for Spean Bridge
AMBITIOUS plans for a £2 million garden centre and visitor attraction outside Spean Bridge have been lodged with the Highland Council.
Situated about a mile from Spean Bridge, Achnabobane could welcome up to 60,000 visitors next summer if the project is given the green light.
An application for planning in principle has now been submitted to the local authority.
The brainchild of Achnabobane resident Ross MacGregor, the plans would see a petting zoo, garden centre and restaurant built on land situated just off the A82.
It is anticipated 12 full-time equivalent year-round jobs would be created.
Mr MacGregor’s existing trout ponds, red deer farm and Christmas tree business would be incorporated into the new plans.
The 37-year-old stockbroker from London grew up in the area. After moving to London for 10 years, he came back to Achnabobane in January this year.
Speaking to the Lochaber Times, Mr MacGregor said he hopes to fulfill his life-long dream of having a garden and visitor centre.
‘From a young age I have been around visitors. My mum used to run a B&B and I would show the visitors around and point out where Ben Nevis was,’ he said.
‘I have always had this dream of seeing a visitor attraction and garden centre here.’
Mr MacGregor first had the idea in 1999 when he was awarded funding for the deer farm.
‘It is a no brainer to build this here, with mountain biking and ski-ing near by.
‘We want to try and use the area, and everything it has to offer, to the maximum.’
Achnabobane has transformed in the last 30 years. From the original farm house and cottage, it now boasts housing.
Mr MacGregor continued: ‘This farm is a honey pot. People want to come and live here and Achnabobane is regarded as a small village now. Visitors come here in droves. There is definitely demand for it.’
Mr MacGregor said the project would be split into two phases, with phase one, costing around £2 million, completed by summer 2018.
He said: ‘Phase one will include a garden centre with ponds, a restaurant, petting zoo and retail space. We would hope to have a second phase where we would build cycle tracks and maybe have some pedalos for the children. We would like to make some of it indoors or sheltered.’
John Fotheringham, chairman of Spean Bridge, Roy Bridge and Achnacarry community council, said councillors would have to examine ‘all the relevant policies’ before deciding on whether to support the plans or not.
He said: ‘We have requested an extension from Highland Council planning until after our next meeting on August 1 so we can fully research this application. It would not be fair to the applicant or the community at large if we were to take a decision without a thorough investigation.’
Mr MacGregor added: ‘ We want to work with the community and planners to hear their opinions on this project.’
Ross MacGregor feeds Angus the young bull and calf Charlie.