Council ‘u-turn’ on Oban Bay

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Argyll and Bute Council is to become the harbour authority for Oban Bay and its approaches over a bid by CalMac’s national owner CMAL, and says it will ‘keep the door wide open’ for a Trust Port.

A council officers’ report had recommended they engage with Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) to determine which of the two parties would be best to apply for a harbour revision order.

But Argyll and Bute Harbour Board chairman, councillor Rory Colville, moved an amended motion saying the council’s preferred option would be the council taking over the bay as a unitary municipal port. He also said the council should be prepared to be the harbour authority for unmanaged sections of the bay.

The motion was unanimously agreed at the board’s virtual meeting on Thursday December 2.

Council officials said a move towards a ‘trust port’ model could be possible in the future.

Executive director Kirsty Flanagan said: ‘We are not suggesting ruling out a trust port option. It is about taking the fairest approach to Oban Bay. There is an element of consensus in the correspondence. People want a clear and safe operation, and phase one will deliver that.

‘The second point is that people want a harbour fit for purpose and a significant asset. Phase one will also deliver that.

‘People also want a trust option to be further examined, and phase two will address that, but the recommendations today are designed to allow these things all to happen in a managed way.’

Councillor Colville said: ‘It seems to me that there is more preference for the council to take things forward as a harbour authority. There does seem to be a real concern that the council favours the CMAL approach. That is not the case.’

The volunteer group progressing the trust port option, the Oban Community Harbour Development Association (OCHDA), expressed ‘surprise’ and ‘disappointment’ at the council’s ‘u-turn’, which ‘failed to recognise the trust port option is not only the safest
but also the most advanced in preparation’.

OCHDA’s chairman John MacAlister said the report did not consider the options’ impacts on Oban, nor recognised OCHDA’s preparatory work ‘totalling 36,000 words,’ he said, including a draft Harbour Order and supporting documents.

‘The board were told that the quickest way to get a new Harbour Authority was by either CMAL or A&BC taking control, but no evidence was presented to support this.

‘Then, despite repeated public statements by officers that the council lacked the skills and had no plan to run a municipal port, the council report to the board was changed during the meeting, without any warning, to recommending the municipal port as the preferred option.

‘Though superficially welcome, no discussion of the consequences or the timescale was possible. Council members representing Oban were not informed of the plan to change the recommendation (they were also not consulted in the options appraisal process), and could not question what officers told them, despite the obvious implications including financial and risk.

‘Council officers have not started work at all on the council’s ‘preferred option’ and do not plan to do so until after the next meeting of the Oban Bay Management Group (OBMG) in January, losing another month unnecessarily.

‘If this is as urgent as they said – too urgent to think about a trust port – why haven’t they started on the work?

‘Perhaps the reason is they don’t want to run the harbour as a municipal port at all and, if they say they haven’t started work on it in January, perhaps the OBMG will decide not to back the council’s preference but to hand the responsibility to CMAL instead?

‘What price democracy? OCHDA will not give up the argument: Oban Harbour should be run as a trust port. It will be best for Oban, its hinterland and the island communities served from here, best for all the water users and other stakeholders and, in the end, best for the council.’