Battered Banff Harbour “could be finished” as major repairs to the historic port hang in the balance amid a dispute between the council and contractors.
Parts of a crumbling wall came loose and crashed into the sea in the spring of 2017 following freak storms, and long-awaited restoration work got under way in January.
Aberdeenshire Council appointed Lochshell Ltd to reinstate the damaged railway jetty, which was once where trains would arrive at the port to pick up goods.
The firm was also tasked with strengthening the east pier as part of the deal.
But now workers have downed tools after discovering “unexpected ground conditions”.
And harbour users fear that, unless the wall is repaired by the time winter gales sweep in, then the port could end up suffering irreparable damage.
What does contractor say?
Lochshell, which is based just outside Wick, told us that work ground to a halt when it emerged the job was more complex than first expected.
A statement from the firm said: “Lochshell Engineering is currently awaiting updated contract design documents from Aberdeenshire Council due to unexpected ground conditions found on site.
“Once received, this will then allow works to resume and progress to completion at Banff Harbour.
“We fully support the project and improvements being made and invested in by Aberdeenshire Council, and are keen to deliver the works which will return the harbour to the local community as soon as practicable.”
The silent scene at Banff Harbour as the scheme remains at a standstill –
Council ‘profoundly disappointed’
Aberdeenshire Council has confirmed that the expected completion date of early September will not be met, but stressed that officials are doing all they can to get the scheme back on track.
Alan Wood, director of infrastructure services said: “Works at Banff Harbour have been suspended while contractual discussions are held.
“We are profoundly disappointed by this delay in the project and I would like to reassure harbour users that we are doing everything in our power to resume these critical works as soon as possible.
“However, given the delay, we do not anticipate completion by the previously stated date of September 3.”
Harbour historian fears its time could be up
The harbour dates back to 1625 and about 30 small boats still fish out of it almost 400 years later, though most berths are occupied by pleasure crafts.
One of the harbour users, Phil Hemsley, told us how he craned his yacht from the water earlier this year to keep it at Lossiemouth.
But many others crafts remain trapped, unable to leave while sections are enclosed by large bunds to enable the construction work.
Phil, something of a local historian when it comes to the port, has grave fears about its future if work doesn’t resume urgently.
He said: “Something wants doing before the winter gales come, that’s the most important thing.
“Otherwise, Banff Harbour could be finished.
“The people of Banff, many years ago, invested in that harbour and when the council took it over they inherited the responsibility of keeping it going.”
Chairman of the Banff Harbour Advisory Committee, councillor John Cox, echoed those concerns.
Mr Cox said: “I recognise that the way the harbour has been left, with half of the pier taken away, could be a significant concern if there was a combination of high tides and bad weather.
“I can see that being an issue, we have to ensure that doesn’t happen.
“That would be devastating.”
Lochshell’s website states that the firm has 40 years of experience in engineering, construction and steel fabrication.
Previous clients include Moray Council and Highland Council.