Opposition mounts against plan to control Oban Bay

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Opposition is mounting to plans by CMAL to take control of Oban Bay.

A number of public bodies have joined forces to voice concern over the proposal by Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) to take over the running of Oban Bay ‘to improve safety’.

BID4Oban, Oban and Lorn Tourism Alliance (OLTA) and Port of Oban Welcomes have jointly raised concerns over the plans to create a single port authority for Oban Bay.

The three organisations say they are worried the proposal is not receiving enough consultation with the business and tourism industry and that there has been little public consultation.

CMAL has responded by organising a meeting for the business community of Oban in the Corran Halls at 6pm on Wednesday July 18.

A joint statement from BID4Oban, OLTA and Port of Oban Welcomes said: ‘Access to Oban Bay must be maintained by pleasure and leisure craft, kayakers, dive boats and commercial operators as well as Caledonian MacBrayne’s ferry fleet.’

At the meeting Oban Bay harbour manager Paul Jennings will explain the rationale behind the proposal for CMAL to apply for a Harbour Revision Order. Lorna Spencer, director of harbours for CMAL, will also be there to answer questions.

The statement from the three organisations added: ‘If the primary reason to change the existing arrangements under Oban Bay Management Group (OBMG) is safety, it should be based on a report prepared by an independent and impartial third party, and not CMAL, which clearly has a conflict of interest.

‘We believe control of the harbour should not be with a single interest, commercial entity. The interests of all commercial and leisure users of bay must be considered on an equitable basis.

‘There has been insufficient engagement with all stakeholders in Oban. Despite the considerable and increasing economic activity driven by marine tourism, few of the shore-based businesses have been engaged as stakeholders.

‘BID4Oban is calling upon Argyll and Bute Council, a member of OBMG, to pause the CMAL proposal until these concerns have been addressed.’

The meeting next Wednesday is open to the public.

The join statement continued: ‘Marine tourism is developing in Oban and the town has worked hard to attract cruise ships, many of which anchor in the bay and use the new facilities at North Pier for tenders bringing passengers into Oban.’

OLTA chairman Calum Ross said: ‘We are aware of increased safety concerns following the upscale in ferry movements and the success of the North Pier short-stay transit marina, and our understanding was that OBMG had agreed to consider various options to improve safety for all vessels using Oban Bay, including consideration for a single harbour authority.

‘We find ourselves sidelined in what should be an open debate with all the businesses in Oban whose livelihood is directly or indirectly affected by potential restrictions on leisure and commercial boats, and indeed kayakers.’

Andrew Spence, cheif executive of BID4Oban, added: ‘CMAL is proposing a Harbour Revision Order (HRO) which would give it control over the whole of the bay and its approaches.

‘This has potential impacts for all users of the bay and views are being sought about possible alternative methods for managing the bay as well as protective provisions should the HRO go ahead.

‘We would urge all businesses in the town to attend the meeting as there are concerns that control over such a valuable and important asset should not be in the hands of one body.’

Neil Mackay, vice-chairman for Port of Oban Welcomes, said: ‘A huge amount of hard work has gone into making sure cruise ship passengers and other floating visitors can enjoy all the town has to offer.

‘Our yellow-badge guides are already making an impact and we’re taking
shore excursion inquiries for 2019 and 2020 for walking tours which keep passengers in town.

‘Anything that might restrict cruise ship movements is to be considered carefully as this could halt, or indeed reverse, the economic gains we have made and undo all the good work put in by volunteers to raise Oban’s profile as a cruise ship destination.’

Linda Battison, development agent for Argyll and the Isles Tourism Cooperative (AITC) and marketing director for OLTA, added: ‘While safety must always be taken into consideration, we are not aware of any major incidents in Oban Bay and would caution against legislation that might have unintended consequences.

‘Better awareness of the OBMG’s Code of Conduct for the harbour is needed and an independent assessment of the perceived safety risks should be made before considering Harbour Revision Orders.’