Letters to the Editor – 17.2.22

Reader Neil Lea of Dunoon set us this atmospheric photograph of St Conan’s Kirk, Loch Awe. If you have a photograph you would like to share with us, please email the jpeg (1MB) to editor@obantimes.co.uk

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Confusion over management of ports and harbours

There has been a deal of confusion about the council’s current role in managing ports and harbours in Argyll and Bute – on December 20 Councillor Rory Colville claimed responsibility for at least 39. Most of these are small piers and slipways, only nine have council staff. None are on the scale of Oban.

Technically, a harbour is an area of water, while piers, slipways etc. make a port, but the term Harbour Authority is used for both. Oban has four authorities managing piers; it is in urgent need of one actively managing the wider harbour.
Argyll and Bute does not currently run any authority managing such a wider harbour, rather than a pier, and so has no relevant experience in this area. This was confirmed both at public meetings and to the Harbour Board in 2018/9, where council officials stated that ‘we do not possess sufficient specialist knowledge of harbour management at a senior level commensurate with the increased level of risk that the council would be tasked with managing’.

For this reason, in 2019 the council Harbour Board instructed officials to work with OCHDA to develop a Harbour Trust.
However there is already an Oban Harbour Authority, established by statute, dating back 150 years. It governs the inner harbour (inside a line joining the Brandystone and the Dog Stone). The council should have been operating it, but appears to have been unaware of its existence. (Strathclyde ignored it also ).

It seems that the council now plans to reactivate this Harbour Authority and extend its boundaries, and we look forward to seeing their plans, which should be brought to the next Argyll and Bute Harbour Board meeting in March. The safety and future development of our harbour is fundamental to the town, and it is vital that their plans are progressed. However there is strong national guidance as to the processes they must follow and we will be doing our level best, in the interests of all of us in Oban, to ensure that they follow these processes, which will involve developing their plans in cooperation with all local stakeholders, including the Community Council.

In the event that Argyll and Bute Council decide they cannot implement their promised Municipal Port within an acceptable timescale, they must immediately revert to their previous policy, viz to collaborate with OCHDA to establish a new statutory Harbour Authority as an independent Trust Port run by a board of suitably qualified and experienced trustees.
Oban Community Council.

Islay ferries

CalMac says, in response to requests from Islay for capacity increases in the coming months, that these would be unaffordable. The organisation is probably right, given the constraints on capacity of their current fleet, and their apparent inability to ease these expediently by either building, buying, or chartering extra vessels.

Ferries are complex vessels these days and the technology is continually evolving, so the ability to keep up is essential.

Great things are now promised with the proposed new Islay ferries, but then such claims have been made before and the company is still in a jam, which suggests their procurement policies can be questioned.
Poking into the history of the vessel which is to be replaced – MV Finlaggan – I discovered that while she was being built at Remontowa, the yard was also busy with an order for Torghatten Nord – four LNG-powered ferries for their Vestfjord services. Comparisons are interesting. Finlaggan requires 5250kw for a capacity of 86 cars and 550 passengers, with a service speed of 16kt. ‘Vaeroy’, ‘Baroy’, ‘Lodingen’, and ‘Landegode’ have capacity for 120 cars and 390 passengers, with a top speed of 22kt and service speed of 16kt.

Finlaggan’s cost at £24.5million was a little higher than the Vestfjord boats too. Torghatten got the four LPG ferries plus two conventional ones for £ 117m.
CalMac now claims its Option 2 ferries for Islay – to be delivered in 2025 – will be a great step forward, particularly in propulsion efficiency.

This is to be welcomed, though it happens to be the same year Torghatten expects to put its first pair of large hydrogen-powered ferries into service on the Vestfjord routes. It seems CMAL/CalMac will still be behind, having not yet managed to put any LNG-powered vessel into operation, 10 years after the Norwegians did so.

I could add that the Vestfjord ferries operate overnight as a routine requirement.
Arthur Blue, Ardrishaig.

Dr Jaffa is missing the point

Surely Dr Martin Jaffa’s letter in the Oban Times of Thursday February 3 is missing the point.

It shouldn’t matter who lives near any west coast sea loch or for how long. What really matters to everyone, including the aquaculture industry, is the good condition of our marine environment. In this case, Loch Creran is designated as a Marine Protected Area and has extremely rare [and the world’s largest] Serpulid Reefs. That is of concern to all of us, local or not.
David Stewart, Appin.

Loss of business to peninsula

In the summer of 2011 I spent a day talking to people queueing to get onto the Corran Ferry, whilst shaking a bucket as part of a fundraiser.

At the time a single drive-up fare was £7. Of each ferry queue, at least two vehicles planning to cross over to the peninsulas from Nether Lochaber changed their minds and didn’t cross because of the cost. That’s a minimum of 30 vehicles that didn’t make the crossing on just one day. Many of those vehicles won’t have visited the peninsulas at all. Even if we simply calculate a short summer season of four months, that’s potentially more than 3,500 vehicles that may not have crossed, a situation that’s probably worsened as the fares have increased.

While keeping our roads clear of a few extra vehicles, this will have also denied our small businesses of prospective custom. If that one day was indicative, how much lost business is that to our area every year? It is excellent the price of a resident’s book of tickets hasn’t gone up, but every time the drive-up price rises, that’s another group of people who won’t make the crossing, and another hit for peninsula businesses.

We keep being told how important tourism is to the local economy – but we are being prevented from fully participating. Without thriving businesses, remote living becomes more difficult, more people have to travel into towns for work, or move away, and on the ripples go.

Highland Council needs to stop treating our life-line service as their personal cash-cow, and consider the wider implications.
Joanne Matheson, Acharacle.