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‘Urgent need’ for harbour authority to manage Oban Bay

Oban Bay
Oban Bay

Recent fuel spillages in Oban Bay have demonstrated the “urgent need” for an overall harbour authority to manage the waters.

That is the opinion of Oban Community Harbour Development Association chairman John MacAlister, who expressed disappointment at the lack of progress in the situation.

The association was formed in 2019 to create a trust port to run the busy bay on behalf of the community.

At present there is no overarching authority responsible for the entire bay, which is posing a safety risk as vessel traffic increases.

A recent public consultation confirmed most strongly that the community does not want CMAL (Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd), which owns the Railway Pier and ferries, to take control of the whole of the harbour.

Local businesses and leisure users said it would be unfair for the biggest user to have full control and it should be operated in the interests of the community.

Oban Community Harbour Development Association (OCHDA) was established to work towards creating a trust port.

The association is proposing a transfer of Argyll and Bute Council’s powers and responsibilities in the bay and to lease assets on the North Pier and pontoons, which are owned by the local authority.

It was hoped a trust port could be formed this year. But at a recent Oban Community Council meeting, serious concerns were raised about slow progress and the risk of a serious accident with the predicted increase in visitor numbers.

OCHDA is now challenging the council to help it form a trust port or to establish a municipal port, to take responsibility on behalf of the people of Oban.

The association has prepared outline plans and is ready to recruit a board of trustees once a Harbour Order has been submitted.

An agreement is still to be reached between the council and association regarding the North Pier, with further discussions scheduled to take place.

The new pontoons from the North Pier.

Speaking at last week’s meeting of Oban Bay Management Group, Jim Smith, the council’s head of roads and infrastructure, reaffirmed the authority’s commitment to supporting the association.

He said a target date of Autumn 2021 is achievable.

Mr MacAlister said: “The lack of real progress since 2019 has been most disappointing. Recent fuel spillages demonstrate the urgent need to establish an overall harbour authority for Oban, to manage the waters that are currently unmanaged and take overall responsibility for safety and the environment of Oban Bay and approaches.

“OCHDA will step up and establish the trust port if Argyll and Bute Council will collaborate by sharing their existing resources. It’s a potential win-win, with
the council gaining extra income while the community regains control of its harbour.”

If the council and the association are unable to collaborate, the only alternative is a private commercial port run by CMAL/CalMac.

The CMAL-run port option was rejected in a public consultation in 2018 on the grounds that no single business should have control of the harbour.

A spokeswoman for the council said: “To date, we haven’t received a formal submission from OCHDA regarding transfer of council assets or responsibilities, although an informal ‘Expression of Interest’ was submitted to the council in December 2020. This was in relation to council infrastructure at the North Pier in Oban, including the harbourmaster’s building and pontoons.

“OCHDA also submitted a draft outline programme indicating potential timescales for their main activities at the Oban Bay Management Group (OBMG) meeting held in January of this year.

“We wrote to OCHDA to explain the formal statutory process for asset transfers which is set out in Part 5 of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015. We continue to work with OCHDA, assisting them, and look forward to receiving a full submission.

“The oil spill in Oban Bay was managed by a multi-agency group on the ground consisting of CalMac, Northern Lighthouse Board and the council, with strategic support from colleagues in head offices. SEPA and the MCA were also involved. The multi-agency group carried out a review of the oil spill response this week which confirmed that the oil spill had been dealt with incredibly well.”

OCHDA said it had been agreed in December 2019 with the council that the collaboration would involve a commercial lease of assets on the North Pier.

It says the council has failed to provide indicative figures for a possible lease. No income and expenditure figures have been provided, which has left the association unable to consider a figure to offer.

The association said its expression of interest was submitted at the request of the council and not reflective of its preferred arrangement.

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