THE CHAIRMAN OF Moray Council’s economic development and infrastructure services group has hit back at comments made over spending on Moray’s harbours by SNP group members.
Earlier this week the SNP claimed to have forced a U-turn from the Independent-led Administration group over a raft a major changes first agreed by the committee in November.
The new vote on the issue was taken when it was accepted that in making the original decision several councillors did not fully understand what they were voting for. At a meeting on Tuesday the issue was again debated in depth, with the SNP claiming success after plans to drop a discount for boat owners over 60-years-old was amended.
Following the meeting, Buckie councillor Sonya Warren attacked the Administration and specifically five members whose wards include a council-owned harbour facility, saying they “should take a long hard look at themselves”.
She added: “They did not back their communities in November nor did they do so today and I am sure that will have been noted by the folk who use the harbours and who are paying the price for the lack of investment by this Administration.”
One of the councillors named by the SNP was the committee chairman, John Cowe, who hit back at comments from both Councillor Warren and her SNP colleague Councillor Gordon McDonald.
He said: “Councillor McDonald mentioned lack of investment in Findochty Harbour over 20 years ago – he was their Councillor at that time, why did he not do something about it?
“Councillor Warren mentions lack of investment by the present administration – so perhaps I can enlighten her. Capital spend in 2011 was £134,000, then in subsequent years £176,000, £217,000, £130,000.
“In 2015/16 it rose to £312,000 and in the last year it more than doubled to £739,000. These figures include £500,000 investment at Portknockie, £50,000 on pontoons at Hopeman and considerable investment at Burghead.
“The ten-year capital plan contains indicative figures of £300,000 per year investment in Moray Harbours to 2016/17 – a massive amount of investment despite a £135,000 deficit in the Harbours Revenue account.
“The outcome of this week’s vote means that £26,500 will go a long way in addressing the deficit in the Harbours revenue account and support further capital investment. The £3000 increase proposed by the SNP would do nothing to support investment in Morays Harbours.
“So I ask myself the question as to who should take a long, hard look at themselves?”
Harbour users last night questioned if the new decision was a ‘U-turn’ at all, several pointing out that while the over-60s discount would be retained for those already in receipt of it, it would still see those retaining the discount paying much more.
They added that while the Council said they would ask boat owners first if they wished new facilities such as power and water put in place, that did not halt the 50% increase being made – and those that did agree to the new facilities would have to pay even more.
Richard Tregale told insideMoray: “The boat owners are still unhappy that the figures used for the Councils proposal are the same as the original proposal of November 2016, which used purpose built marinas in Lossiemouth and Banff as a comparison for fees.
“Despite many opinions to the contrary the boat owners are not against cost rises, but the suggested rises are much higher than expected for the types of harbours involved.”
Mr Tregale pointed to the SNP proposal that would have restricted berthing increases to 15% – but instead the committee forced through increases that came in at around 50%.
Hopeman Harbour boat owner Robert Stewart was equally unhappy and questioned what work had been done on the Harbours to result in the capital spend figures produced by Councillor Cowe.
He said: “I do know they spent £10,000 on handrails at Hopeman – representing an overspend of £8000 as the real cost for these if the job went out to tender to local firms would be £2000. I can quantify and qualify this figure as I am a fabricator of 43 years in the trade, and even at £2000 the profit would be over £500 for a good days work.
“The same men who banded about the so-called deficit are the exact same men who wasted millions on a road that has never been built.
“John Cowe stated that he needed the harbour money for vital services for the elderly and child education, the two things do not even come out of the same Council budget – but they still manage £600,000 for the leisure centre where some of them are directors.”