Delaying new harbour authority is ‘in no one’s interest’

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Extensive delays developing a new harbour authority for Oban is in no one’s interest and could jeopardise safety, it has been warned.

The warning comes as Oban Bay Management Group-backed council plans for a municipal port for the town.

The move has effectively stopped development of an independent trust for the immediate future, according to OCHDA (Oban Community Harbour Development Association).

The association will discuss what happens next at its AGM on January 25 but will also be debating its own future.

OCHDA set up in 2019 to explore and develop proposals for a community-run port.

OCHDA chairman John MacAlister said: ‘OCHDA still believes that Oban needs a
trust port with the sole focus of its work being Oban harbour, a view which is shared by the majority of the Oban Bay Management Group (OBMG). However, in order to help get the new harbour authority up and running, and bring greater safety to water users in Oban Bay, we will work with Argyll & Bute Council to help establish the municipal port as efficiently as possible while also ensuring that the trust port project continues to be an integral part of the process.’

After  three years’ work by the association, a proposal for a trust port was rejected by Argyll and Bute’s Harbour Board in December 2021 and instead a decision made to promote the development of a municipal harbour authority for Oban.

OCHDA’s case had included new analysis of shipping in the bay, detailed financial plans, public consultation over proposed harbour limits and arrangements for the management oversight of the trust port showing it would all be achievable probably in time for the 2023 sailing season.

OCHDA argued a trust port would be affordable by generating income for the council and would be sustainable benefitting the harbour and the town  but their proposal relied on leasing some of the council’s North Pier assets. Although that was previously agreed by the Harbour Board  they changed their mind although there is an intention to still develop a community-run port at some stage.

At last week’s OBMG meeting, members noted OCHDA’s trust port proposal could not
progress without leasing North Pier assets so endorsed the municipal port plan.

OCHDA said council officers could not provide any details of timescale, funding, existing and future jurisdictions, or governance and project management aspects of the  proposal but committed to have it in March.

OBMG has recognised positive support from all stakeholders would facilitate speedy
establishment of a new harbour authority and suggested it should be built in to the council’s planning and governance arrangements.