Frantic council bosses have ripped up their contract with engineers in an urgent effort to get a troubled repair project at Banff Harbour back on track.
Lochshell Ltd started work at the historic port earlier this year, but later argued that the £1.3 million scheme was far more complex than advertised.
Following months of dispute, engineers walked out in August claiming Aberdeenshire Council had still not provided the blueprints needed to make progress.
Management at Wick-based Lochshell say the actual cost of the upgrades required could be more than double the original estimate.
The two sides have remained at a stalemate for the past month, with the port left in a state of disarray.
Now the local authority has terminated the contract and vowed to restart the scheme “as quickly as possible”.
Our new video shows the abandoned works –
The council’s harbour chief, Philip McKay, told us today that officers are working urgently on the matter.
He said: “We are now exploring all possible approaches towards the immediate resumption and timely completion of this important project.”
Banff Harbour contract row finally over
An email sent to harbour users states: “We expect the physical works to recommence on site around the middle of this month.
“The primary focus of the works on site over the coming weeks will be to quickly and safely secure the main structural element of the east pier during the hopefully favourable weather window.
“At this time, we expect this phase of the works to be complete around the start of November.”
The e-mail adds that further works will continue beyond then “if weather conditions permit”.
But harbour users have been told it is likely the wider project will be suspended until spring – with the port closed until that time.
As well as fixing a ramshackle jetty that crumbled into the sea in 2017, Lochshell was tasked with strengthening the east pier.
The unfinished scheme has left the it partly exposed – and unlikely to survive severe winter storms in its current predicament.
Chairman of the local authority’s Banff Harbour advisory committee, John Cox, welcomed an end to the “total uncertainty” caused by the spat.
‘We could lose the pier…’
He said: “There have been a lot of worries with no work being carried out.
“The project was to protect the harbour, to ensure it does not get any more damaged.
“But left in this state of disrepair, there are massive concerns that the problem has been escalated.
“There is the fear that, in its current state, a major storm could mean we lose the pier.
“That would be devastating.
“Harbour users don’t care who is going to do the work, the main thing for now is to preserve the pier.”
Hopes for a brighter future
Mr Cox is optimistic that further discussions can soon take place on how to enhance Banff Harbour.
He wants it to become “a jewel of a marina on the Moray Firth coast”.
“With a more strategic approach it could have huge tourism potential and create real economic benefit,” the Banff councillor added.
Harbour users are being advised there will be no dues required until the port reopens.
And customers who wish to remove their boat will have the cost covered by Aberdeenshire Council.
In a statement to Aberdeen Journals last month, Lochshell claimed the scheme was “set to fail”.
Management said the harbour’s designer, noted civil engineer Thomas Telford, would be “quaking in his grave” at the current state of the 17th Century port.
Lochshell today declined to comment on the latest development.
The company offered more details on the problems with the complex project in the exclusive statement.