Furious boat owners have been ordered to quit a Moray harbour because of safety fears over its storm-damaged pier.
Skippers at Portgordon must find new moorings before the end of next month after the Crown Estate gave them their marching orders.
Last night locals said they were “gutted” by the decision – and raised fears about the effect on the local economy and tourist trade.
The Crown Estate said it was acting “to protect both the boats and the safety of vessel owners” following damage to the east pier last winter.
About 20 boats, largely used for fishing, are directly affected by the move.
The decision also calls into question plans by the local harbour group to create a pontoon system that would permit dozens more craft to moor in the port.
Lee Brown, chairman of the Portgordon community harbour group, said: “The local boat owners see it as a big blow due to the high waiting list of other moorings up and down the coast.
“I feel gutted because all the efforts that the group have put in have gone to waste.
“I’m looking at the wider picture and how it will affect the village of Portgordon as a whole and the vast amount of tourists that come to the area.
“I’m still trying to take it all in, the harbour is a great place to go and all that’s going to disappear.”
Ron Billing, the group’s honorary president, said: “I just cannot see the reason for doing it if the harbour is being used, it looks a far better place than one that’s lying empty.
“We have plans for a pontoon system that would permit 50 or 60 boats – you can imagine the revenue that it would generate which would keep the harbour going.
“We had the ambition of making the harbour the jewel in the crown, but the Crown won’t back us what so ever.”
The future of the harbour’s east pier has been in doubt since a 40ft section collapsed during a blizzard before Christmas last year.
The structure, which was decommissioned in 1947, has continued to deteriorate in the months since and residents fear a future storm could wreck what remains and lead to possible flooding in the village.
At a meeting in the village in May, locals were told it would cost £300,000-£400,000 to repair – and that the Crown Estate had only recently realised it was the owner.
Yesterday Crown Estate spokesman Alan Laidlaw said: “Following damage sustained to the east pier last winter and our subsequent review of the structure, we are requesting that all boats currently within the harbour be removed by Tuesday, September 30, in order to protect both the boats and the safety of vessel owners.
“The harbour was closed by an Act of Parliament in 1947, so it is not officially open to boat activity, and this request for boat removal follows the issue of a formal notice to mariners earlier this year.
“Reinstatement works to improve the structure of Portgordon Harbour’s east pier are scheduled to commence toward the end of 2014, depending on weather conditions and contractor availability.”