Oban Municipal Harbour

Oban Municipal Harbour - Harbour Orders and management.

Oban North Pier panorama

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 of 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

Oban North Pier and Pontoons

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 that 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. 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.

Oban North Pier and pontoons aerial view

"Oban Harbour" Project

The Harbour Revision Order (HRO)

The Council’s Harbour Board met on 31st August 2023 and approved a draft of the HRO for the formal application, assuming there were no material changes requested by Transport Scotland in the meantime.

The report clearly set out the key steps, including the 6 week consultation period consequential to that decision.  

The process now follows these key steps:

Draft HRO process - steps
Step Description Actioned by
1 Formal application requested by Transport Scotland and submitted by Argyll & Bute Council. Accompanied by fee and supporting documentation Transport Scotland and Council Officers
2 Public Notice – 42 days (6 weeks) of public consultation. May result in representations being received from members of the public, community groups or statutory consultees. Objection handling by Transport Scotland by written representation, hearing or inquiry. Negotiation / modifications by Argyll & Bute Council.
3 Consultation with statutory consultees is also open for 42 days but may not exactly match the same commencement day as the public consultation period. (see 3.2.6) Managed by Transport Scotland, then passed to Argyll & Bute Council.
4 Scottish Ministers consideration of application and decision. Scottish Government.
5 Decision letter issued & decision published. Transport Scotland.
6 Order Made. Argyll & Bute Council assume control of new harbour area. Scottish Government.

Following the successful conclusion of informal discussions, the formal application has now been submitted to Transport Scotland and the submitted draft can be read here - 

Purpose and Effects (P&E) notes

Alongside the HRO itself, the Council has also collated a Statement of Support or ‘Purpose and Effect’ notes which is required with any HRO application. These notes lay out the reasonable justification for the powers a Harbour Authority needs as well as the effect those powers should have and can be read here - 

Harbour Limits & Navigational Risk Assessment (NRA)

Assuming the process has been completed successfully and the Act is made, Argyll & Bute Council Statutory Harbour Authority area will be extended from the existing area round the North Pier. The new limits of ‘Oban Harbour’ will look like this:

Oban Harbour Revision Order harbour limits plan

The limits were underpinned by carrying out a Navigational Risk Assessment (NRA), which included summer and winter observation periods and extensive consultation with users and stakeholders.

The Northern limits include the ‘outside’ anchorages so that small tender vessels can be safely controlled while entering the Harbour.

The Southern limits include the Kerrera Ferry crossing so that approaching traffic can also be safely controlled.

The NRA itself can be read here - 

The Consultation

We would like to thank everyone who took the time to participate in the HRO consultation. Oban Harbour plays a critical role in the economies of Oban and the isles, through travel, tourism and business life. We want to improve safe and secure access to and from the town for all mariners, visitors and pleasure craft and will progress the HRO with that objective in mind.

Since consultation process closed on 10 January 2024, we have liaised very closely with Transport Scotland to collate the representations received.

Each representation will receive a response from officers to address the matters raised and clarify, where there is an objection, whether they wish to withdraw that objection. We will aim to have most public responses sent by mid-April.

Once that process is concluded there will be further liaison with Transport Scotland to review the position at that time, before Transport Scotland can report to Ministers. Although there is no set timescale for this, we will continue to work closely with Transport Scotland to progress matters as expeditiously as possible.

Questions and Answers

Q1. Does the Oban Bay Management Group support the Municipal Harbour?

Argyll and Bute Council’s plans for a Municipal Harbour have the full support of the Oban Bay Management Group.

Q2. Oban is a distinct and complex harbour; how can we be confident that Argyll and Bute Council has the expertise to run it?

Argyll and Bute Council has a Harbour Master at Oban with a great deal of experience both in general marine terms and specifically in managing Oban Bay. Oban Bay is one of 36 piers and harbours managed by Argyll & Bute Council, including seven Statutory Harbour Authorities one also being a Competent Harbour Authority. Within the Roads and Infrastructure Services, the Marine Department have an extensive range of experience supported by (among others) Legal, HR & Technical Design colleagues.

Q3. What will the staffing be and what hours will the Harbour operate?

The Harbour will operate between 06:00 and 23:00 with three Assistants working with the Harbour Master to cover the ferry timetable periods.

Q4. How will Argyll and Bute Council govern the harbour and ensure the local community and stakeholders are involved?

Argyll and Bute Council’s piers and harbours are operationally managed by the experienced marine team mentioned above. The Council has a Harbour Board comprised of Elected Members from across Argyll and Bute – the Harbour Board sets and scrutinises the delivery of policy in relation to the Marine service area.

We also have harbour user/stakeholder groups across the area which meet regularly – this arrangement will be replicated in Oban.

Q5. Will the extra charges discourage visitors and where will any profits go?

Argyll and Bute Council will receive most of its income from fees and charges from larger vessels and CalMac (CFL), whereas locals and local business will benefit from any developments made to encourage visitors to Oban. Conservancy charges etc. made on non-leisure craft are to cover the costs of maintaining the port and the duties required of the Harbour Authority (whomever that may be) in keeping the Port safe and open for business.

Q6. Are there any plans for upgrading the port facilities?

There are plans at an early stage which look at an extension of the North Pier. The scope of the proposal would include extending and strengthening the North Pier by up to an additional 50m and dredging to a usable uniform depth of 5m to facilitate and future proof the berthing face for commercial customers. The works would help to ensure a safe and efficient through traffic management of commercial and private vehicles using the pier.

This is a valuable strategic asset to Argyll and Bute and is in high demand from commercial vessels. An increased berthing capability would provide a greater number of options, and would continue to support key sectors like aquaculture, while at the same time providing increased landing capability for salt deliveries which are used to maintain our winter salt stocks and ensure that Argyll and Bute remains open for business.

Q7. Why do we need any change, surely existing COLREGS are enough for safety?

The formal management of the larger bay area allows the Harbour Authority to enforce legislation (like COLREGS) and other safety rules (like speed limits). Without the inclusion of the larger bay area in a new HRO, there is the possibility of disruption or incidents which take place outside the jurisdiction of the existing Authorities. Local leisure and regular users should not notice much of a difference in the day-to-day running of the Bay.

Q8. Will the harbour eventually be transferred to CMAL or run for the benefit of CalMac ferries?

Oban Bay is recognised as an important strategic asset within Argyll & Bute. The Council will run and maintain Oban Harbour with a long-term outlook.

Q9. Will small leisure craft still be able to launch for free and have access to the bay?

Argyll and Bute Council operates an ‘Open Port’ policy which ensures that safe access and safe use of our Ports and Harbours is enjoyed by the public. Leisure craft will be exempt from Conservancy Fees.

Q10. What is the process for establishing the Harbour Authority?

There is specific detail on the process on the Transport Scotland website and can be read here - Transport Scotland - Harbour Orders overview

Q11. Does the council have the expertise to become a municipal harbour authority?

Yes. Argyll and Bute Council is a Statutory Harbour Authority at seven locations and a marine asset owner at a further 29 marine facilities located throughout the Council area, operates 4 ferry services and has an extensive team of Harbour Masters, mariners, design engineers with marine specialisms, lawyers, accountants, back office support, a diverse management team and a multi skilled executive team which provides leadership support. Oban Municipal Harbour will simply be an extension of existing business, benefiting from the systems, expertise and organisational backing that is already well established and in place.

Q12. Will there be a speed limit within the Bay?

Yes. All vessels are required to proceed at a safe speed but to clarify and prevent accidents or damage the present 10 knots and 6 knots speed limits work well.

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