Aberdeenshire Council is facing calls to repay thousands of pounds to Banff Harbour boat owners as a troubled repair scheme remains at a deadlock.
Dozens of vessels have been left trapped for months amid prolonged improvement works, which now have no definite end in sight and could stretch well beyond the summer.
The £1.3 million upgrade, which was arranged after part of an old railway jetty collapsed, began in January and was supposed to be finished by the summer.
But the works recently ground to a halt after contractor Lochshell Ltd discovered “unexpected ground conditions” at the 17th century harbour.
The firm is now at an impasse with Aberdeenshire Council, knocking back progress by weeks and raising fears the port could be at risk of catastrophic damage over the winter.
Increasingly exasperated by the “debacle”, harbour user Kenny Galloway reckons the local authority should now pay back thousands to disgruntled customers who have been unable to use their boats.
He said: “The contractor has put in large rocks to stop any movement of boats going out, so those in there are trapped on both sides.
“It’s like we are under house arrest, and we are paying for the privilege.”
Kenny, who owns a small boat purely to do some fishing for fun, slammed the repair scheme as a “shambles from day one”.
‘Why are we still paying top whack?’
The 59-year-old pointed to a recent development where Moray Council refunded the fees paid by users of Findochty Harbour when pontoon problems left them unable to use the facility.
He said: “That shows the difference between the two councils, Moray waived the berthing fees but at Banff we are still paying top whack.
“They should do the right thing here.
“Moray clearly has a bit of care for their customers while Aberdeenshire clearly doesn’t.”
When it was confirmed in October that the harbour would be closing in November, owners were offered a 100% refund if they were able to remove their boats by then.
Users were given a 50% cut if their crafts remained locked in the port until the end of March and a refund of 30% if berthing was provided at another Aberdeenshire harbour until that time.
When this was all agreed, there was an understanding the repairs would be finished by the end of April.
Kenny is keeping his boat in a compound at the harbour, which requires a fee of £101.
But some users with boats in the water are forking out between £400 to £500 for the spell between April and August.
Our video shows the scene at Banff Harbour since work was halted –
Robert left in limbo
Robert Farrands has kept a 25ft yacht moored in the marina for about 15 years, and has been similarly put out.
He said: “We were made aware in October 2020 that work was going to start on the current repairs at the start of November, and if we wanted to move our boats, to do so.
“Moving my boat in October at the beginning of autumn, with the associated poor weather and shortening of daylight, was impossible for me and I had nowhere to move my boat to at such short notice.
“We were then told in November the works would not start until April 2021 and would mean we could not use our boats until August when the repairs were scheduled to complete.
“Given the latest development I do not know when I will be able to move my boat.”
Crafts could be affected by months trapped in Banff Harbour
Robert also told us he fears his yacht could have suffered from its months of inactivity.
He said: “I am also concerned as weed and other fouling will be allowed to build up on the bottom of my boat due to lack of sailing, making the boat very difficult to sail if and when I am able to do so.”
The Lumsden man has now got a berth at Lossiemouth Marina – but is unable to bring his yacht to the Moray port.
Robert added: “I have asked that the council consider paying for a crane to move my boat (and anyone else’s boat wishing to leave) out of the harbour and into the outer basin so I can sail my boat from Banff to Lossiemouth before the autumn.
“The level of service at Banff Marina has steadily fallen over the years I have been there.
“At present I see no viable future for Banff Marina in its current form which is a great shame as, despite the above, it is beautiful little harbour with a lovely location.
“In the meantime I am effectively trapped in Banff Marina until this debacle is sorted out.”
Contractor wants to resume work
An Aberdeenshire Council spokesman declined to comment on whether the authority would follow Moray’s example by issuing refunds.
He said: “We would like to reassure all Banff Harbour users that our focus remains on resuming these critical works as soon as possible and we will be communicating directly with them in due course to address any concerns they have.”
Lochshell, which is based just outside Wick, told us bosses are “awaiting updated contract design documents from Aberdeenshire Council due to unexpected ground conditions found on site”.
The firm added: “Once received, this will then allow works to resume and progress to completion at Banff Harbour.”