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Final push for Harris distillery as £1.9m awarded

THE managing director-designate of a planned Scotch whisky distillery on the Isle of Harris hopes a £1.9 million grant from the Scottish Government will prove the catalyst for raising the rest of the required funds.

PLANS: An artist's impression of the Isle of Harris Distillery by the waterfront in the centre of Tarbert.
PLANS: An artist's impression of the Isle of Harris Distillery by the waterfront in the centre of Tarbert.

Following the Scottish Government's backing of the £10m Isle of Harris Distillers project, Simon Erlanger told The Herald: "The announcement should give any wavering investors confidence that the scheme has got very good government support."

The Scottish Government grant came from its Food Processing, Marketing and Co-operation Grant scheme.

Mr Erlanger revealed those behind the project were having "a number of positive and encouraging conversations" with potential funders as they tried to raise a final £1.3m of private equity.

Mr Erlanger added: "We have got a little bit of a way to go. I hope this announcement - will be the catalyst for the final push."

He cited potential for further public sector funding, and acknowledged Scottish Enterprise's Regional Selective Assistance grant scheme was another possible source of funding, and also highlighted discussions with Highlands & Islands Enterprise.

Mr Erlanger said: "There could be further support. The £1.9m goes a very, very long way to filling the amount we hoped for from the public purse, so we are incredibly excited by that and the recognition by the Scottish Government of the importance of the project to the islands. There is a little bit left that we would hope to be able to secure from the public purse."

Isle of Harris Distillers chairman Anderson Bakewell said: "The [grant] award adds to the momentum which this project has generated and increases significantly the likelihood that this once-in-a-generation opportunity will not be squandered."

Mr Erlanger, who presented plans for the distillery at Tarbert to islanders in the Harris Hotel yesterday, said the community was really excited about the project.

He has said private equity will make up most of the £10m needed to fund the building of the distillery and operations for the first eight years, until the business becomes cash-positive.

His "optimistic scenario" is, if the rest of the funds are raised in the next month or two, construction will begin in the second half of this year with a view to starting production and opening to visitors by the end of 2014. The aim is to make a single malt whisky "of outstanding quality" in a "distillery of architectural merit".

The project, which is expected to create 20 direct jobs, would allow Harris to join the club of islands which make their own whisky. Islay, Jura, Skye, Mull and Orkney have long traditions of making the national drink.

Lewis joined them two years ago, while Arran began producing in the 1990s. Plans for a distillery in Shetland, however, ran into trouble.

Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead, visiting Harris, said: "I am sure that, in time, Harris whisky will develop a worldwide reputation for quality in the same way as Harris Tweed."

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