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Fort William is one of the wettest places in the UK with more than 200 days of rain per year … and and this can often mean locals and tourists are scurrying from door to door to avoid a drenching.
At the Question Time event as part of Lochaber Ideas Week, panellist Angus MacDonald suggested a glass roof be installed to protect from the rain and allow people to enjoy the town centre, whatever the weather.
Mr MacDonald, currently building the Highland Cinema on Cameron Square, suggested a glass covering in a classical style, with posts in the centre could add a lot to the town.
He said: ‘It would make the town much more attractive as a location and would likely fill up the empty buildings due to even more people using the High Street. It is a dream of mine that would be fantastic for the town but would require a lot of input from business owners and landlords.’
It is an idea that has been described as having some mileage but some shop owners such as Gwyn Moses, co-owner of Gallery in the Fort, are yet to be convinced.
He said: ‘It’s great in principle, bringing more people to the town, but who pays for repairs, upkeep and cleaning? After 10 years, what’s it going to look like?
‘Many businesses here also don’t have the luxury of a rear loading bay area and depend on the street to receive deliveries. There are also some very interesting architectural features on a lot of the buildings that would be obscured by a covering.’
Mr Moses also pointed out that the winds that come up Loch Linnhe could be amplified by the covering, making it a low-rent wind tunnel.
A group which wants to encourage people to shop locally rather than online is the Fort William Town Team whose secretary, Karen Dean, thinks it would be better for visitors and enable more community events. However, she highlighted the issue of access.
She said: ‘This isn’t the first time this has been suggested and historic conversations have always mentioned access for emergency vehicles being the main stumbling point as the walkway cover may not be high enough to allow vehicles through. I would also guess the roof would get in the way of firefighters getting the correct angle with hoses on buildings in the case of putting out fires.
‘From a funding perspective, I’m sure there would be funds available and if the right project team takes this on, they can raise funds for the shortfall if needed.’
As a voluntary group, this project is too big for the Town Team to take on, but they are confident if a group did take it on there would be money for it.
Drew Purdon, of the Fort William Retailers’ Association, thinks there are many benefits for businesses, but said people had to be realistic.
He said: ‘The first step would be to get Highlands and Islands Enterprise to do a feasibility study to see how much it would cost and getting opinions of businesses and people living on the street that it would affect.
‘If this project is going to happen, it needs to have someone leading it.’
HIE programme manager for Lochaber, Alastair Nicolson called it a ‘novel idea’ and would be happy to look at what role HIE would have.