MORAY HARBOURS OWNED and managed under rules that date back to the 1800s could be reviewed following a prolonged dispute in Lossiemouth.
Campaigners in the coastal town have been at loggerheads with the Elgin and Lossiemouth Harbour Company over the placement of bollards blocking a road around the harbour to vehicles.
Residents and businesses in the area have protested at a move they say is already having an adverse effect on tourism in the town. A particular complaint from people in Lossiemouth – thousands of whom signed a petition against the move earlier this year – is that no consultation took place with the community before the bollards were put in place.
Members of the Harbour Company have remained intransigent since blocking the road, insisting that it was on their land and so their decision, consistently refusing to enter into any talks over alternate methods of resolving the health and safety issue they say was the reason for the bollards being erected.
Now Moray’s MSP Richard Lochhead has entered the dispute, meeting with Harbour Company board members George Reid and Stephen Gauld this week.
The MSP said the meeting was “full and frank”, Mr Lochhead adding that he had conveyed the disappointment of constituents that the bollards had been installed “without adequate consultation with the wider community”.
He said: “I appreciate that the harbour company’s directors may have acted with the best of intentions in terms of health and safety and don’t doubt their commitment to what’s best for Lossiemouth.
“However, given that the harbour is a focal point in Lossiemouth valued by the whole community, the way in which access has been affected has clearly caused considerable angst.
“Unfortunately, the directors are not of a mind to revisit the issue given that they are not obliged to do so due to being a private company – and that they believe they have taken the best decision.
“While I take on board the fact that the directors are unpaid and give up their time to manage the harbour, I made the point that decisions over the future of such a strategic asset, irrespective of whether it is privately or publicly owned, can benefit from transparency and full and open discussion with the local community.”
Questions over Harbour ownership
Mr Lochhead said that he will now be writing to the Moray Council seeking their views on what other options may have been deployed to achieve the same outcome in terms of improving safety.
He also issued what will be seen as a warning to the Elgin and Lossiemouth Harbour Company that questions may need to be asked over their own status.
The MSP said: “There are questions over whether it is appropriate in the 21st century that Lossiemouth harbour should be managed and owned under an arrangement dating back to the 1800s – and where local people find the company a bit of a mystery and perhaps want more of a say on the key decisions over its future.
“I understand the directors investigated other models in terms of ownership over ten years ago.
“Perhaps it is now time to look again at how other harbours are owned and managed with greater input from the local community and in the public interest.
“It would be useful to have the view of the local community on this.”