BUSINESS and tourism leaders in Moray have backed plans for a Cultural Quarter in Elgin – a flagship project in a £200 million Growth Deal bid.
It comes just weeks after a visit from the Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell, who was in Moray to hear about plans to transform the region’s infrastructure and cultural offering.
At the forefront of the multi-million pound projects included in the funding bid is Elgin’s Cultural Quarter, set in a reimagined space at Lossie Green and Cooper Park. It is hoped that the project would create a dynamic and vibrant area for both tourists and Moray residents, raising the profile of Moray as a place to live, work and visit.
The Cultural Quarter would:
* Showcase the strength of Moray’s offering in food, drink and textiles, with a focus on a ‘Whisky Experience’. It will host video and interactive exhibits, and tastings, as well as signposting visitors to tours and visitor centres across Moray and the North of Scotland.
* A refurbished Town Hall housing Moray College Creative Industries Hub, a multi-purpose theatre and performance space with rehearsal rooms and a gallery space.
* 4/5-star hotel (to be privately funded).
Rhona Gunn, corporate director for economic development, planning and infrastructure, Moray Council, said: “The Cultural Quarter has been directly influenced by the public engagement around the Moray Growth Deal in 2017.
“The top four areas most in need of improvement in Moray, as ranked by 1,200 respondents to the survey, were: job creation, education facilities, businesses operating in the area, and leisure and recreation facilities. We firmly believe that, if supported for government funding, the Cultural Quarter would deliver against these identified needs.”
Elgin’s Cultural Quarter would increase tourism in Moray by providing a focal point of national significance, to draw in additional visitors and signpost them to attractions right across the area.
Elgin is ideally-placed to do this given its major transport links and the fact that it already attracts the most tourists in Moray. The new area would also provide an enhanced cultural and night-time economy offering which would help to retain young people in the area and attract those relocating to Moray for work.
Twenty-five per cent of Moray’s population lives in Elgin and this is set to rise even further. Basing new cultural and leisure assets here would guarantee year-round use of the facilities and create a buzz throughout Moray.
The project has already attracted broad support from a cross section of prominent figures in Moray including tourism, whisky, manufacturing and retail.
Laurie Piper, operations manager for Moray Speyside Tourism, thinks that the Cultural Quarter could act as a gateway to encourage people to visit other areas of Moray and, indeed, the North East of Scotland.
“Moray Speyside is a world-class destination,” he said.
“During the first half of 2017 tourism added almost £60 million to our local economy. There is no doubt that visitor numbers are increasing but to maintain this we need world class attractions and facilities. The lack of hotel accommodation results in visitors staying elsewhere and spending their money outside the region.
“The plan for the Cultural Quarter addresses many of the barriers to increased visitor numbers and increased tourism spend in the area. I hope this project within the Growth Deal bid continues to get widespread support.”
Chris Gaffney, group finance director at Johnstons of Elgin and MD of Elgin Mill, added:
“The challenges that Moray has around how we keep ambitious young people in the area, or attract those with high skills to come here, are very important to us. When people are considering relocating to the area we are commonly asked about education, health services, infrastructure, transport links and cultural and leisure facilities. These same issues are key to keeping our existing employees in the area and to them leading a fulfilling and healthy life.
“We are pleased to see the Moray Growth Deal developing a suite of projects that will improve the quality of life of people that live here, attract new people and aid companies like ours to grow the economy.”
Ewen Mackintosh, managing director, Gordon & MacPhail, also supports the ambition of the Cultural Quarter: “We must make Moray a destination. Gordon & MacPhail is an international business. Speyside whisky is an international bestseller. We want the same international reputation for Moray Speyside, the place.
“We want to attract visitors from far and wide and, much like our whisky, Moray has all the ingredients here to do this. The visitor experience must be cohesive from the transport to the visitor attractions to the accommodation.
“Any improvements to the visitor experience will also be enhancing the quality of life for the people of Moray and surely that is a good thing.”
The Creative Industries Hub to be operated by Moray College UHI as part of a separate project to enhance the UHI offering at Moray College would also significantly improve education provision in a sector that is predicted to grow.
David Patterson, principal at Moray College UHI, explained: “The Moray College Creative Industries Hub would kickstart a growth in our young people following an education in the creative sector and it would act as a key interface with employers in this field.”
The project for the Cultural Quarter is at an early stage of business case development and there will be further analysis of economic impacts and consultation over the coming months. The Cultural Quarter features two prominent Elgin buildings with uncertain futures – the Town Hall and Grant Lodge.
“Discussion is underway with a community body which has registered a Notice of Interest in taking over the Town Hall and with Friends of Grant Lodge as to how their plans for both buildings and those within the Growth Deal could work together. Early indications are positive.
The Lord Lieutenant of Moray, Grenville Johnston, said: “For many years, the Friends of Grant Lodge have been campaigning for this historic Elgin landmark to be restored to its former glory and put to good use by the people of Moray.
“Grant Lodge Trust, a charity, has been set up to progress the possibility of a Community Asset transfer which would comply with the original George Cooper Trust Deed and create a Civic Engagement Hub.
“TSi Moray is supporting this process. It seems to me that these plans fit very well with our aspirations. We welcome the plans for the Cultural Quarter and indeed Grant Lodge’s prominent role within it. We would all love to welcome visitors to this iconic building that has been neglected for so long. By working together I sincerely hope we can achieve this.”
To find out more about the Moray Growth Deal bid, visit mymoray.co.uk.
Famous for its colony of dolphins, fabulous beaches and more malt whisky distilleries than any where else in Scotland, Moray is a thriving area and a great place to live. Nestling between Aberdeenshire and the Highlands, Moray stretches from Tomintoul in the south to the shores of the Moray Firth, from Keith in the east to Brodie Castle in the west.
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