Crinan Canal consultation is the latest in long line of development proposals
LOCAL people have been following the latest consultation process for the Crinan Canal with interest and a little frustration.
This is the second or third time in a decade that the public has been invited to share its ideas for a sustainable future for this waterway, and it must have struck the organisers that the answers to design and development questions will not be so very different from those expressed in previous exercises.
While it is right and proper to consult communities and groups, businesses and users on the best ways to maximise the benefits of public assets, the gesture means nothing if none of the ideas is taken forward, or if they are and progress is measured in decades.
This week’s archive trawl has revealed a tale of missed opportunity: the story of a multi-million-pound development in Loch Gilp that did not happen. In April 1982, the Argyllshire Advertiser reported that local building contractors M & K MacLeod proposed a civil engineering project to create a deep water marina in a dredged section of Loch Gilp, accommodating a mixture of 400 resident and visiting boats.
The scheme was the brainchild of Sir Ian MacGregor, chairman of British Steel, and adviser to the development company set up to lodge a planning application and gauge public opinion. The project would have seen a large-scale construction phase to dredge the bottom, reclaim land, create a deep water channel and install pontoons and finger berths for boats on transit through the canal.
The marina would have occupied a 64-acre site and included associated infrastructure and facilities - and encouraged water-borne visitors to spend some time exploring the canal corridor, upper Loch Fyne and the hinterland of Mid Argyll.
The plans even had the support of Argyll and Bute District Council and the Highlands and Islands Development Board (as it was then known), but there was significant local objection and the project did not go ahead. If it had, Loch Gilp would have looked very different and the visitor economy would have developed to meet a growing demand for tourism, leisure and recreation activity in the marine environment. Lochgilphead and Ardrishaig could have taken advantage of the boom years, enjoyed by places like Inverkip, Largs and Dunstaffnage.
It is interesting to note that the following year, plans for a 500-berth marina development at Craobh Haven got the go-ahead, only a couple of hours’ sailing time from Crinan. Today, there are marinas and step-ashore facilities in Portavadie, Port Bannatyne, Holy Loch, Rhu, Campbeltown, Oban, Ardfern, Loch Melfort, Tobermory, Lochaline, Port Ellen and Tarbert, and more are planned up and down the coast.
Most of these facilities are on a more modest scale, but they deliver significant economic benefits to local communities and provide a network of safe and convenient havens for increasing numbers of leisure craft.
Twenty-five years later, similar proposals for a marina at Ardrishaig put forward by the community council and other interested parties were not taken seriously by British Waterways Scotland (now Scottish Canals) during a masterplan exercise; nor were a number of other independent – but connected - ideas for making the most of the estate of under-utilised canal property for the benefit of residents, local groups, the business community and visitors.
Of course, some of the proponents may not have been aware of the original plans, and some ideas may have been out of the question purely on the grounds of cost, but when the same types of suggestion come forward time and again they certainly merit serious consideration.
A decade on, one or two significant changes have been made, but not necessarily the most innovative, progressive or long-term type of initiative that could have made the canal and its communities attractive places to visit and do business.
The Crinan Canal is an outstanding transport monument, a rich community asset, a popular visitor attraction and a symbol of the industrial revolution’s impact on rural Scotland all at the same time. The waterway has starred in film and television, and been the subject of several histories, consultations, masterplans, local action plans and now a consultation.
Hopefully, the latest suite of proposals will include practical measures that will match community economic development interests with the re-utilisation of public assets.