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‘Orkney Gateway’ vision for county’s World Heritage Site opens for public comment

Date: 06 September 2021

Time: 08:40

Photo of Ring of Brodgar - image courtesy of Historic Environment Scotland

Local people are being asked for their feedback on options for the future management of the world-renowned Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site (WHS).

Feedback will be used to develop a final ‘Outline Business Case’ for ‘Islands Deal’ funding announced earlier this year by the UK and Scottish Governments for the Orkney World Heritage Site Gateway Programme - or “the Orkney Gateway”.

This Programme, which is aimed at providing a better and more sustainable experience for visitors and locals alike across the World Heritage Site (WHS), is being funded with joint investment of up to £6.5 million from the Scottish Government and UK Government (SG £5.5 million/UKG £1 million), as part of the Islands Growth Deal – a ten-year investment programme jointly funded by the UK and Scottish governments, the three Island Councils and their partners from the public, academic and business sectors.

The Heart of Neolithic Orkney WHS takes in a number of globally important ancient monuments and settlements including the world-famous Skara Brae, Ring of Brodgar, Stones of Stenness and Maeshowe chambered tomb – with individual sites managed variously by Historic Environment Scotland (HES), and Orkney Islands Council (OIC).

The Orkney Gateway Programme looks to introduce a range of co-ordinated initiatives across the World Heritage Site area such as improved signage, technology to monitor visitor numbers in real time and suggest alternative attractions, active travel routes and strategically placed ‘welcome’ facilities including e-bike chargers and public toilets to help encourage visitors to spend more time taking in the sights both within the WHS and further afield.

It’s also proposed to implement coach permits and charging at some car parks to generate income towards upkeep of the WHS and encourage take-up of walking and cycling between attractions.

Our Project The DetailEnvironmental Report Feedback Survey  

Main partners in the Orkney Gateway Programme are HES, OIC, and Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).

Our Islands Our Deal logo

Orkney Gateway Programme partner logos - Orkney Islands Council, Highlands and Islands Enterprise; Heritage Environment Scotland, Scottish Government, United Kingdom Government.

Other key stakeholders in the WHS include NatureScot and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), as well as landowners, farmers, and the local community and tourism businesses, and University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) Archaeology Institute which manages the Ness of Brodgar.

Orkney Islands Council Leader, James Stockan, says it’s ‘absolutely crucial’ that input from local residents is captured at this stage of the Programme to ensure their concerns and aspirations are also addressed:

“We know the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site is top of the list for many first-time visitors, and rightly so. With the exception of Maeshowe and Skara Brae, these utterly breathtaking sites are unticketed and free to visit.

“However managing visitors has increasingly been a challenge – overcrowding at peak periods has been an issue, and unfortunately as a result we see physical damage and degradation of the monuments or their surrounds such as erosion to paths and roadsides, and litter.

"What we want to move towards is an experience where we smooth out some of the ‘pinchpoints’ we’re all aware of so that visitors - whether they are locals or from further afield - can truly engage with the monuments and surrounding landscape, and move around them in a more relaxed and sustainable way – and be encouraged to also visit other attractions in the county, spreading the benefits wider.

“The Orkney Gateway Programme is aimed at delivering this – it represents years of hard work by the Council and our partners to explore solutions and secure this huge investment from the UK and Scottish Governments through the Islands Deal. We’re keen to ensure we get this Programme right for local people so they feel a sense of ownership and connection to the outstanding monuments and landscape on their doorstep.”

Chief Executive of Historic Environment Scotland, Alex Paterson, said: “This is an excellent opportunity to enhance the visitor experience around the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site, while balancing environmental and conservation concerns. This consultation gives the local community an opportunity to have their say on how the Orkney Gateway Programme should develop, strengthening their engagement with their own heritage.”

Graeme Harrison, Highlands and Islands Enterprise Area Manager for Orkney, said: "HIE is very happy to partner with OIC and HES in this important programme and we share the ambition to secure the true sustainability of the World Heritage Site by managing footfall and encouraging greener forms of travel both within and between the sites.

"We are also keen to explore how the WHS could inspire visitors to travel more widely around other sites and islands by encouraging a broader understanding of how the sites link to form Orkney’s story through the ages."

A consultation document has been developed which asks people for their feedback on the whole suite of options including the active travel network, destination management platform/ technology, digital interpretation and ‘apps’, and parking, as well as options for an orientation and welcome centre.

The documents sets out this vision for better managing visitors around the WHS in a draft Outline Business Case, organised into four options. These are:

  • Option 1 – do minimal – refresh signage and introduce car parking charges.
  • Option 2 – Digital and Infrastructure - all the above, plus significant upgrades to ‘active travel’ paths and connections supported by digital orientation and interpretation, and improvements to Brodgar car park including toilets, disabled bays, and electric bike charging points. There would be no visitor centre - instead, transit hubs, drop-offs, cycleways, and paths would act as gateways and orientation points for guests.
  • Option 3 – Local Centre at Stenness Village – all the above, plus a small-scale centre with charged parking providing toilet facilities, orientation, ticketing and some interpretation, and possible small-scale/basic refreshment, with a seasonal shuttle and path network to access the sites.
  • Option 4 – Adjacent Centre – all the measures in Option 2 plus a welcome centre directly adjacent to and ideally within walking distance of one or more of the sites, on a possible greenfield site along the B9055. Design of the centre would require careful consideration to ensure parking is not visible from the attractions and building sits well within the World Heritage Site scenery and landscape.

Among the possibilities considered in the past but rejected include an ‘Out of area centre’ which it was felt would be at risk of being bypassed completely by visitors, and development at Tormiston Mill where there are significant highways and road safety constraints and potential viability issues.

A Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) has been undertaken of the World Heritage Site Orkney Gateway Programme. The purpose of SEA is to ensure that environmental considerations are considered within the Programme, in accordance with the Environmental Assessment (Scotland) Act 2005. Members of the public are also invited to comment on the findings of the SEA which are presented in an Environmental Report.

Further information, including the Environmental Report and a consultation survey, can be found via the buttons on this page (scroll up).

The consultation period will be 6 weeks commencing 6 September.

There are also two in-person consultation events planned for early October:

  • Tuesday 5 October at Maeshowe Visitor Centre, Stenness from 17.00 – 21.00
  • Wednesday 6 October at St Magnus Centre, Kirkwall from 13.00 – 17.00

Comments via the online survey would be much appreciated as the most efficient way for officers to collate responses. 

Alternatively, comments can be emailed to or posted to Orkney World Heritage Site Gateway Consultation, Development and Infrastructure, Orkney Islands Council, Council Offices, Kirkwall, Orkney KW15 1NY.

The closing date for feedback is 15 October 2021 at 5pm which will enable partners to revise and submit the final Outline Business Case for the Orkney Gateway Programme to the UK and Scottish Governments before Christmas 2021.

  • Summary:

    Local people are being asked for their feedback on options for the future management of the world-renowned Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site - feedback will be used to develop a final ‘Outline Business Case’ for ‘Islands Deal’ funding announced earlier this year by the UK and Scottish Governments for the Orkney World Heritage Site Gateway Programme - or “the Orkney Gateway”.

  • Category:
    • Consultations
    • Islands Deal
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