Cri­nan Canal con­sul­ta­tion is the lat­est in long line of devel­op­ment pro­pos­als

The Oban Times - - Leisure -

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.

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