IT was the first big land buyout in Scotland where wealthy owners were forced to sell to the community.

The Assynt Foundation used £4 million of taxpayer, charity and lottery cash to buy the vast Glencanisp and Drumrunie estates, and refurbish Glencanisp Lodge, but there have been questions about how great the return on the investment has been ever since the 2005 buyout.

Now, after 15 years of effort, the foundation has decided to call in private cash and a high-powered entrepreneur to give it the boost it needs to achieve its goals. Hotelier Nick Dent is to lease the stunning Glencanisp Lodge, centrepiece of the Assynt Foundation’s 44,000 acres, and turn it into a boutique hotel.

It will cater for well-heeled travellers on the North Coast 500 road trip and bring a jobs boost to the area. The foundation bought the estate for £2.9m in 2005, with £1.6m from the Scottish Land Fund – at the time National Lottery cash – £600,000 from Highlands and Island Enterprise (HIE), and £100,000 from government agency Scottish Natural Heritage, alongside charitable donations.

It was the first major buyout using the provisions of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 to force a landowner planning a sale to sell to the local community. The foundation later spent a further £250,000 of HIE cash and £700,000 Big Lottery money on a £1.5m restoration of the lodge, and ran it as a B&B and guest house, but was unable to make as much as it needed from the operation.

It also tried to develop a wind turbine and hydro-electricity plants to get an income for its work, without success. The foundation’s biggest aim was environmental restoration and it has so far planted more than 800 acres of trees on the estate, cut deer numbers, and is restoring peatland.

But some in the community of Lochinver have complained they have seen little benefit from the huge investment in the estate. Now, according to foundation chairwoman Claire Belshaw, the income from the lodge will mean environmental work will be boosted and other community involvement will be improved, with arts projects and local people using the facilities more.

The new lease will mean Mr Dent taking on all the hassle of running the lodge as a business – and, as an added bonus, he will employ 20 people in a community of just 600. Local firms will also profit from his commitment to source food, materials and services locally.

At the moment just one person works permanently on the estate, far fewer than in the time of its former owners, the Vestey meat millionaires. Mr Dent – who already runs two upmarket hotels in the Highlands – is expected to spend about £1m more upgrading the lodge into a boutique hotel with en-suite bathrooms for every room, a new kitchen and other improvements.

The hotel will open before summer.

Ms Belshaw said: “This is a very positive move for us because we can work together for the benefits for the community. It will enable us to do many things we wouldn’t otherwise have been able to do.”

She said the new lease would free directors from having to run the lodge and trying to balance the books with money-making schemes. Instead, they could concentrate on the foundation’s primary aims, and she said she would recommend such a step to other community buyout groups, where it was suitable.”

Until 2014 Mr Dent – an economist by trade – and his wife Charlotte, who works in public relations, lived abroad and had no experience of the hotel business. Since then they have built up a stable of 10 boutique hotels including Shieldaig Lodge, near Gairloch, in the north-west Highlands, set in a 26,000 acres estate, and Forss House Hotel, near Thurso.

Both are also on the NC500 circuit, which starts in Inverness and takes in the Wester Ross, Sutherland and Caithness coasts. Visitors to the new four-star-plus hotel will enjoy unrivalled views of Suilven, the dramatic rocky cone that dominates the Assynt landscape, and the beautiful wild country of the estate.

Mr Dent said the lease was expected to be signed soon, with a few details yet to be ironed out.

He said: “A particularly positive aspect of this is working with the Assynt Foundation and getting the local community onside.

“These sorts of places do not make a lot of money and I’m not doing it for that. I am doing it so we can create a wonderful experience.”