Very little real news seems to have emerged since our last newsletter but we have, like swans, been busy under the waterline! It is now almost 7 months since the draft Harbour Revision Order (HRO) was submitted to Transport Scotland (TS) and we seem to be very little further forward in terms of establishing the new Harbour Authority!
What’s been happening
Progress with the HRO
The draft HRO intended to establish the new Municipal Harbour Authority for Oban was submitted to TS in December 2022 (on the 22nd!). This document, as submitted, has not been seen and signed off by the Harbour Board (HB) since it required a number of amendments after the formal approval of the Board. The submitted draft (dated December 22nd) is available here. Since then we understand that a further version has been developed and was submitted to Transport Scotland in May 2023 but this remains hidden, along with a number of updated supporting documents. Argyll & Bute Council (A&BC) Officers describe discussions with TS as ongoing and these are clearly not concluded. Consequently it may be that yet a further draft may be required. Attempts to get sight of these documents have been unsuccessful to date.
The Council has still has no proposals relating to future conservancy charges (Harbour Dues) or arrangements for vessel movement, other than the intention to maintain the current Code of Practice arrangements initially. Conservancy charge rates will, apparently, be developed once the HRO has been approved by TS! As a result it is not clear what the impact of all this might be for any vessel. Council Officers have said that not a lot will change for the majority of vessels, which seems somewhat surprising!
Future governance arrangements for the Harbour Authority
In the meantime OCHDA has been working very closely with Oban Community Council (OCC) to present a coherent voice on matters relating to the proposed Harbour Authority development. OCHDA and the Oban Bay Stakeholder Group (OBSG) representatives on the Oban Bay Management Group (OBMG) have now been joined by the Chair of the OCC.
The focus of our joint efforts, recently, has been on the future consultative bodies which the Council proposes to establish. These proposals do not follow established best practice (in Scotland) models nor do they follow Scottish Government Guidance. In effect the proposals establish a hierarchy of groups which muddles roles and functions with a clear focus on the Council being effectively guided by CMAL/CalMac and the NLB. Despite the concerns about the current proposals from the Council, some of which are shared by others on the OBMG, the Council Officers appear entirely intractable! We have put forward, with the support of the OCC and the OBSG, proposals to establish a formal mechanism for that engagement with reporting lines and accountability guaranteed. The Council has refused to give serious consideration to our proposals but have not put forward any counter-arguments despite being repeatedly asked to do so.
There have been a number of supportive contacts with our local Councillors, with our MSPs and our MP, which are ongoing. Importantly we now know, from these, that the only guidance that Scottish Government recommends for governance of ports and harbours is contained within the Trust Ports guidance (downloadable here). Our proposals regarding consultative mechanisms are entirely consistent with this, and we are hoping to persuade our elected representatives – particularly those on the HB – that the Council’s current proposals are not consistent with Government guidance and should not be adopted.
Recently the UK Government issued relevant guidance on governance of ports and we await advice as to whether this, also, would apply in Scotland. It remains our strong view that, unless the Council undertakes to establish a robust, open and accountable consultation mechanism which covers both the safety issues and future development planning we shall be unable to support the proposal at the formal consultation stage. In the event that the Council continues to refuse to engage positively and
constructively with OBSG, OCC, OCHDA and local stakeholders a formal Public Inquiry
may be required.
We have found it necessary to submit a number of Freedom Of Information (FOI) requests, including one to explore what exactly is going on between TS and the Council over the December 2022 draft HRO. Other FOIs have focused on the Council’s repeated statements that there are discussions underway between Crown Estate Scotland and the Council over the transfer of the existing moorings in the Bay. Despite these repeated assertions, the FOIs have shown that no such discussions were going on, and the Council has stated that they have no intention of altering any of the existing arrangements.
As soon as we have some useful information about the progression of the HRO to the formal consultation stage then we plan to arrange a General Meeting of OCHDA. This may be linked to any public meeting which is held as part of the consultation. The Council seems to be planning to hold a public meeting at this stage but details are unknown.
It has been agreed that, once ‘approved’ by TS as fit for purpose the final draft will be considered at a further HB before being submitted formally to TS. Once successfully submitted to TS the formal consultation will begin. This process has to be notified in the press and undertakings have been given that A&BC “will make contact with the various organisations, bodies and individuals we have previously been in contact with on this matter”. Thereafter the 42 day consultation process begins and it is to be hoped that any objections can be accommodated by the Council before the end of the 42 days. The consultation may be extended by TS, if it feels that it is necessary. In the event of repeated attempts to resolve an objection without success (suggested 3 times), a Public Inquiry is the most likely resolution mechanism. OCHDA has been trying hard to work with the Council to avoid this outcome as it will only delay further the inception of the Municipal Harbour. However, we have been clear that there must be satisfactory stakeholder engagement processes before we will support the proposal at that stage.
Depending upon the final form of the draft HRO OCHDA may feel that it is necessary to take further legal advice. Any such decision will be the subject of further correspondence with the OCHDA membership but we are in a position to seek limited legal advice if necessary. There are a number of outstanding issues relating to the current draft, for example the powers in relation to moorings and the position of Kerrera Marina in all this, which – if still unresolved – may benefit from independent legal advice.
Thank you for your continuing support and please consider lobbying your local elected representatives on the issues contained in this Newsletter (we standby to advise or clarify any points you wish to raise).
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