First Minister Nicola Sturgeon opens SSE’s new £4m visitor centre during Perthshire Cabinet tour

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Cabinet today officially opened SSE’s new £4m Pitlochry Dam Visitor Centre in Perthshire.

In a poignant tribute to the engineers whose bravery helped build such Highland hydro schemes as Pitlochry in the 1950s, some of the original ‘Tunnel Tigers’ were there to share their memories.

Ms Sturgeon and John Swinney, Deputy First Minister and local MSP, joined Alistair Phillips-Davies, SSE Chief Executive, to unveil a commemorative plaque to the historic hydro workers before the Scottish Government settled down to the business of its first Cabinet tour of 2017 at the venue.

Building on SSE’s proud hydro heritage, the energy company decided to open a new free-to-visit centre to showcase the engineering revolution which brought power to the glens for the first time.

The new visitor centre is cantilevered eight metres out from the banks of the River Tummel providing breath-taking views of Pitlochry dam, hydro station and Loch Faskally. It also has a 60 seat café and multi-purpose space suitable for educational visits.

The centre will create up to 17 jobs, all paying the real Living Wage and is aiming to attract 88,000 visitors in its first year of opening.

The Scottish Government Cabinet is meeting in Pitlochry as it tours the country to give people the chance to raise issues directly with the First Minister and her team.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “This outstanding new visitor centre is a major boost for tourism in Highland Perthshire.

“Pitlochry Dam is already a popular visitor attraction, so it is fitting that this spectacular new building not only enjoys great views onto the Dam, it also tells the rich story of Scotland’s hydro revolution in an engaging and informative way. The project is testament to SSE’s commitment to the town and I am delighted to officially open the centre today.”

Alistair Phillips-Davies, SSE Chief Executive, said: “SSE is very proud of its hydro heritage and we all owe a huge debt of gratitude to the pioneers and Tunnel Tigers whose endeavour helped create this network of tunnels, dams and hydro stations in the 1950s which still powers homes today. This is a key chapter in Scotland’s social and engineering history and we felt we had a duty to tell that story.

“When Pitlochry Dam and Power Station was first given the go-ahead there were fears it would lead to the ‘ruination of tourism.’ In fact some 550,000 people cross the dam here every year and we’re hoping this new visitor centre will be a popular attraction for the Pitlochry area. “We’re delighted to welcome the First Minister and the entire Scottish Government Cabinet here to officially open the centre. It is a privilege for all of us to meet some of the hydro men who left such a lasting legacy and we should all celebrate their achievements.”

One of the original Tunnel Tigers from Donegal, John ‘Gonna’ O’Donnell, had flown in from Ireland especially for the official opening.

He said: “Today is a fitting and lasting tribute to the men who built the dams. Thanks to SSE, future generations can come to this stunning visitor centre and hear our hydro story for themselves.

“My first role was a ‘spanner’ man. It was a tough job which involved holding the drill machine for the four men working above me. Sometimes if I close my eyes I can still feel the tumbling rocks coming down on my bare knuckles and the noise of drilling was deafening. It was hard going, but it was work and for that I was grateful.”

The main contractor for the Pitlochry Dam Visitor Centre was CCG which has experience across all sectors, including affordable housing, and is working with SSE on some of its other sites.

Alastair Wylie, Chairman and Chief Executive of CCG (Scotland) Ltd, said: “We were delighted to take on this project given the unique location and construction challenges. We hope that the end result reflects the stunning environment and offers a modern and vibrant building for visitors. Our build was focused on maximising sustainable building methods and creating a building fit for its surroundings."