Oban Municipal Harbour

Brief Background

The Council, CMAL/CalMac and the Northern Lighthouse Board have different responsibilities for areas of Oban Bay, and some parts of the bay are not part of the specific jurisdiction of any organisation – the situation is not ideal and can lead to confusion for users, with no organisation in sole control of the bay itself.

There are three separate Harbour Orders in place for Oban: the North Pier, Railway Pier and South Pier. The approaches and waters through the bay are not covered by an order. The responsibility for these waters defaults to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA).

Having one or more statutory harbour authority controlling the entirety of the bay would remove any ambiguity and would likely result in benefits to users of the bay.

For a number of years the Council with CMAL/CalMac, the Northern Lighthouse Board and various stakeholders have worked to progress a solution which would result in all the bay, including the approaches, being covered by provisions which would enable the bay to be fully managed.

In 2018 CMAL were ready to progress a Harbour Order which would leave the Council’s North Pier ‘nested’ within a new Harbour Authority. The Council’s Harbour Board were satisfied with this arrangement. However, there was some concern expressed locally regarding CMAL becoming the new Harbour Authority and following discussions CMAL paused their process to allow a community group to explore the possibility of forming a Trust Port.

Whilst the community group had carried out a significant amount of work towards forming a Trust Port, the Council, in 2021, commissioned an independent third party to undertake an options appraisal in order to gain an independent view of the options available.   The options appraisal reported that whilst there is no inherent reason why a trust port would not be a good option in the future, there was no trust port suitably well progressed, “a great deal of work remains to be done”.  The Harbour Board considered the options appraisal at their meeting in December 2021

Decision of the Harbour Board December 2021

The Harbour Board at its 2 December 2021 meeting unanimously agreed the following 6 points:

  1. thanked Caledonian Economics for their work on the Options Appraisal;
  2. agreed that the Council would not at this time proceed with a transfer of assets on the basis that there were too many uncertainties around the proposal;
  3. noted that Options 4 or 5 (Argyll and Bute Council or Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL) becoming the Harbour Authority for the unmanaged section of Oban Bay) provides a quicker route to addressing the current safety concerns and are therefore the best options available at this time.
  4. agreed that either Options 4 or 5 should move forward and request that Officers engage with CMAL, through the OBMG, on the basis that the Council’s preference would be option 5 and that the Council was prepared to be the Harbour Authority for the unmanaged section of Oban Bay, to begin the process of application for a Harbour Revision Order covering the unmanaged section of Oban Bay and to expedite the process for such an order and to report back to members on that process;
  5. noted that there was no inherent reason why a Trust Port would not be a good future option; and
  6. agreed that once Options 4 or 5 were delivered there would be a period of bedding in to monitor the new arrangement and, after that time, there would be a further report to members on the potential for and exploration of the future development of a Trust Port.

Current Position

Following the decision of the Harbour Board the Council is progressing a Municipal Port Authority for Oban Bay. This will include the approaches into the bay but exclude an area around the ferry terminal which will remain a separate Harbour Authority managed by CMAL/CalMac. This will allow the Council to manage the wider Oban Bay to ensure that vessels follow the provisions which will be included in a formal Harbour Order.

There are a number of statutory processes required in order progress a Municipal Harbour Authority which are documented in both the attached high level programme plan and the delivery plan.


Members of the Harbour Board and OLI Area Committee will receive briefings detailing any significant updates regarding the development of the Municipal Port over and above the formal updated report which will be presented to each of the Harbour Board meetings. In addition a page on the Council web site will be regularly updated which will include a link to the Oban Bay Management Group’s1 (OBMG) webpage as we as the high level project plan attached (this will be updated on a monthly basis as a dynamic document) together with the delivery plan also attached as a PDF.

Please note: Appendix 1 of the Delivery Plan is listed in the links below.

Delivery Plan - Oban Municipal Harbour - January 2022

Appendix 1:

High Level Project Plan - May 2022

High Level Project Plan - July 2022

Note 1 – Oban Bay Management Group consists of the 4 public bodies who have responsibility for managing parts of Oban Bay as well as stakeholder representatives. The 4 public bodies being:

  • Argyll and Bute Council
  • CalMac
  • CMAL
  • Northern Lighthouse Board

Further background information is available in the most recent report to the Council’s Harbour Board in December 2021 (Item 3 on the agenda): 

Last updated 28th July 2022