A north businessman has sent a letter pleading with one of the world’s richest men to withdraw his bid on land belonging to an underwater training centre which went into administration.
Iain Beaton, of Invergarry-based Caldive, is asking the owner of Lochaber Smelter, Sanjeev Gupta, to rethink his plans around the Lochaber Underwater Dive Centre and Training School, and keep the facility open as a going concern.
The Underwater Centre in Fort William went into administration last year and since then a former pupil, businessman Iain Beaton, has led a £3 million bid to run the centre.
He envisages his company, Caldive, taking over the operation as soon as the sale was complete.
However, after months of careful negotiation with the landowners, support from Highlands and Islands Enterprise, banks and current staff – and after spending £400,000 on buying the equipment and investing thousands in lease contracts for use of the seabed – the owners of the land have now accepted a slightly higher bid.
It is feared the higher bid, made by Sanjeev Gupta’s GFC Alliance, which aims to operate the smelter as a wheel alloy factory employing 700 people, would see the Underwater Dive Centre close, with a loss of 40 jobs to the area.
In a letter to Mr Gupta, Mr Beaton said: “Our understanding is that Liberty does not intend to continue to operate the centre as a marine training facility and that Liberty’s interest only extends to the accommodation building and not the pier or the training tank building.
“I can not emphasis strongly enough to you that the loss of the underwater centre is a tragedy, immediately for the 40-plus employees and also more generally for Scotland and the UK as a whole.
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“This facility has a unique geographical location based as it is on a sheltered sea water loch with its own pier, immediate access to deep water and near-town centre location.
“This centre has an international reputation in diver training and marine trials support.
“It is an international centre of excellence and one of the very few centres capable of providing deep diving training an certification.
“Whatever Liberty require from the property’s main building could, I have no doubt, be sourced elsewhere within the town of Fort William.
“I respectfully ask that Liberty withdraw from this negotiation and in so doing, allow the Underwater Centre to have a future.”
A spokesman for Sanjev Gupta’s GFG Alliance said: “We were approached by the owners of the property previously used by the Underwater Training Centre, a business that was in administration.
“As part of the GFG Alliance’s strategy to invest in the local economy, we decided to make an offer for the entire real estate with the aim of optimising the use of these assets including the provision of enhanced visitor facilities for the Fort William area.
“We are aware that there has been another offer to acquire the dive centre operations.
“This may be compatible with our own plans so we’ve made known through the appropriate channels that we are happy to meet the business involved to discuss options, and are awaiting response.”