John Finnie has asked the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, Fiona Hislop, for her help to keep two of Orkney’s most important historic visitor attractions open to visitors.
Historic Environment Scotland have announced that the Neolithic burial cairn of Maeshowe and the neighbouring Tormiston Mill will be closed to visitors from Monday 26 September. The closure is a response to concerns about the safety of traffic movements around the two attractions and is described as temporary, but Historic Environment Scotland have not said when it might end.
During Culture, Tourism and External Affairs Questions in the Scottish Parliament, John asked Ms Hislop why the closure had been announced without consultation, and urged her to find a solution that will keep the two sites open.
The Cabinet Secretary replied that she had expressed her concern to the Chair of Historic Environment Scotland, but that she would not interfere in operational matters.
“Local people have identified four solutions that could solve the traffic problem and keep Maeshowe and Tormiston Mill open – an according to the Minister today, a fifth option is also being considered – but none of these options are being implemented and instead local people and visitors are to be denied access to this important site.
“Maeshowe is one of Orkney’s most visited historic sites. The summer crowds may have gone but the Winter Solstice in December is a big day at Maeshowe, and if we can’t be sure whether the site will be open that would be a real blow for the Islands’ winter tourism business.
“Orkney can’t afford to have Maeshowe and Tormiston Mill shuttered indefinitely while various committees drag their feet.
“I’m appealing again to Fiona Hislop and to Historic Environment Scotland: please get together with the local community and put in place whatever traffic solutions are needed right now, and keep our historic sites open.”
In a letter to John Finnie, the Acting Chief Executive of Historic Environment Scotland, Dr David Mitchell, said that the Board of the agency had considered solutions to the traffic issue but “wish to discuss the project further… after our new Chief Executive arrives later in the month.”