Statement from the Board of Oban Bay Marine
The directors of Oban Bay Marine (OBM) met representatives from Argyll & Bute Council’s Area Committee and officers last Friday, 6th March, to discuss the Council’s rejection of their current proposals for a short-stay transit marina in Oban Bay, as intimated in an email to OBM from Fergus Murray, Head of Economic Development and Strategic Transportation, and announced in last week’s Oban Times.
At that meeting it became clear that the rejection of OBM’s business plan by the Council officers was based on comparing it with a written funding offer made last April of £200,000 from the Council and £200,000 from HIE, and also on the potential for a legal challenge under State Aid rules by a local marina operator. (The State Aid rule challenge could be on the basis that an existing business cannot be disadvantaged by another business being given a state aid grant where the second business is in competition with the first.)
It has always been known that the project could not be viable without the support of the Council and substantial CHORD funding to pay for dredging and a floating breakwater. The directors of OBM explained to the meeting that the Business Plan submitted last November was predicated on this condition, not on the basis of the earlier limited offer of funding, and pointed out that the officers had agreed this when commissioning the business plan.
If the Council provides and retains ownership of the capital infrastructure of the dredging, floating breakwater and cruise ship tender berth using CHORD money, the business plan for the transit marina is clearly viable. This also has the advantage of carrying minimal risk of a State Aid challenge. In any case OBM has always contended that the transit facility would not be in competition with any existing marina and indeed would complement the nearest marina at Kerrera.
Proposals for a transit marina or short stay step-ashore facility for boats visiting Oban have been the subject of numerous reports since the early 1980‘s. These have clearly identified Oban as the potential hub for marine leisure tourism for the whole west coast of Scotland north of the Clyde. The volunteer directors of OBM (a community, not for profit company) have been trying to work with the Council since 2007 towards the installation of such a facility plus a cruise ship tender berth, the main driver for the proposal being the economic benefit that such a facility would bring to the town.
It had originally been understood that substantial CHORD funds would be available to part fund the installation and the directors of OBM have spent much time in seeking agreement with the Council to enable them to move the project forward. Indeed it was confirmed at the meeting last Friday that the CHORD fund still has £2million allocated for short stay pontoons.
Since 2007 the directors of OBM have achieved much, including two planning consents, a wave study, seabed investigations, bathometric surveys and various licensing and stakeholder consultations. However, they have also faced many challenges and frustrations, including three consultant reviews commissioned by the Council. Notwithstanding all this, the directors have always been led to believe that they were proceeding with the support of the majority of elected members and that a funding agreement would eventually be confirmed. Sadly this is still not the case.
Pontoons are appearing all around the west coast and proving to be very successful not just for the visiting craft but more importantly for growing the economy of the area. Oban is missing out and has done so for many years. When the directors embarked on this journey they anticipated that the facility would be up and running by 2010 which represents a loss to the Oban economy in the order of £4 million to date, plus an increasing year on year loss until a facility is put in place.
At the meeting on Friday, recognising the potential impact on Oban’s economy, the representatives of the Area Committee present confirmed their full commitment to the installation of a transit facility, and expressed their disappointment that their pledge to install a temporary pontoon for cruise ship tenders this summer had run into difficulties, and is now very unlikely to take place.
They also confirmed that the Council hope to develop the brief for the proposed Lorn Arc project to extend the North Pier, which might now include a transit facility, and to commission consultants to take it to a full Business Case by early 2016. The directors of OBM expressed concern about when this facility might materialise, if ever, and pointed out that developing the already-prepared OBM proposal on the south side of the North Pier, linked to the £2million CHORD funding already allocated, is likely to be a more sustainable and achievable solution in a much shorter timescale. They suggested that the Council might wish to consider commissioning this entirely itself.
It was a positive meeting and it closed with the representatives of the Area Committee agreeing to consider OBM’s current Business Plan again in the light of the discussion. The directors of OBM made it clear that after eight years of effort, unless the situation can be clarified very quickly such that the project can move forward, they are minded to recommend to the members of the company that it be wound up.
The directors of OBM appreciate the commitment expressed by the current Area Committee and the expression of continuing support from HIE and BID4Oban. They also wish to thank all the members of the company and the wider public for their support over the last 8 years, especially the 70 local businesses which provided financial support early on, the local consultants who have provided their services at risk and the marine contractors for their valuable input, also at risk.
The directors of OBM still hope that the Council will come good and invest the CHORD money in the infrastructure required to enable the transit facility to be installed, and which the town so desperately needs to help grow its economy.