Be­side the Sea­side

The Oban Times - - LEISURE - Get in touch with your sto­ries at bo­dach@oban­

PEO­PLE of all ages have their spe­cial mem­o­ries of liv­ing in or vis­it­ing a place by the sea ... bathing and pad­dling at the beach, play­ing in the sand, rock- pool­ing, throw­ing sticks for the dog, ice- cream, chips, watch­ing boats come and go at the har­bour. The pop­u­lar­ity of the West Coast’s sea­side re­sorts dwin­dled since the ad­vent of af­ford­able pack­age hol­i­days abroad, and the de­cline of some tra­di­tional in­dus­tries has had a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on the prospects of res­i­dents.

The news that the Bri­tish Hos­pi­tal­ity As­so­ci­a­tion rec­om­mends a sea­side tsar to help turn de­clin­ing towns into coastal pow­er­houses sounds like an ex­er­cise in the man­age­ment of fail­ure. Some­one would be ap­pointed at con­sid­er­able pub­lic ex­pense to tell com­mu­ni­ties what they al­ready know.

There is an ex­pec­ta­tion that the pub­lic sec­tor will come to the res­cue, but cen­tral and lo­cal gov­ern­ment can only do so much. Their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in­clude pub­lic ser­vices and cre­at­ing and main­tain­ing con­di­tions to at­tract in­vest­ment.

Ar­gyll and Bute Coun­cil’s CHORD pro­gramme was in­tro­duced to do just that: as­sist with re­gen­er­a­tion and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment in Camp­bel­town, He­lens­burgh, Oban, Rothe­say and Dunoon. With a bud­get al­lo­ca­tion of more than £ 30 mil­lion, the ini­tia­tive has al­ready seen sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ments in town cen­tres and wa­ter­fronts, in­clud­ing con­ser­va­tion sites, traf­fic man­age­ment, pub­lic spa­ces, im­por­tant build­ings and mar­itime in­fras­truc­ture.

Last year the High­land Coun­cil adopted town cen­tre ac­tion plans for Fort Wil­liam, Nairn and Tain. This is non- statu­tory plan­ning guid­ance that will be treated as a ma­te­rial con­sid­er­a­tion in the plan­ning process in an en­deav­our to de­liver long- term com­mu­nity growth. Sim­i­lar strate­gic ef­forts are al­ready ad­vanced or planned all around Scot­land’s coast. Re­de­vel­op­ment and the cre­ation of new fa­cil­i­ties will pre­sent at­trac­tive places, but vi­brancy will come from a var­ied suite of things to see and do, and busi­ness com­mu­ni­ties have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to re­spond to mar­ket changes and to rein­vest in prop­erty, per­son­nel and tech­nol­ogy.

Places that are busy and in­ter­est­ing are at­trac­tive for res­i­dents and vis­i­tors, and the richer the ex­pe­ri­ence the bet­ter for all. We need an es­sen­tial mix of in­de­pen­dent re­tail; restau­rants, cafes and bars serv­ing dif­fer­ent lo­cal spe­cial­i­ties all day is be­com­ing a min­i­mum con­sumer ex­pec­ta­tion.

Des­ti­na­tion- led in­no­va­tions can pro­vide low- cost so­lu­tions that im­me­di­ately im­prove town­scape ap­peal. Empty shop units have been trans­formed into tem­po­rary gallery or per­for­mance spa­ces; other empty build­ings have been painted or vinyl- wrapped to give the im­pres­sion that they are used and cared for. Plans that are de­vel­oped in col­lab­o­ra­tion with lo­cal com­mu­nity and busi­ness in­ter­ests have the best prospects of suc­cess and will nec­es­sar­ily in­clude en­vi­ron­men­tal con­sid­er­a­tions, ef­fec­tive land use, mo­bil­ity, ac­ces­si­bil­ity and con­nec­tiv­ity.

There is no tech­ni­cal rea­son that all of this can­not be achieved. Imag­ine your town with high em­ploy­ment, a busy and in­ter­est­ing high street and a profitable trad­ing en­vi­ron­ment. Imag­ine be­ing able to park within easy reach of the main fa­cil­i­ties, as well as a fully in­te­grated pub­lic trans­port net­work. Imag­ine your with­out lit­ter.

How can any­one com­plain about hav­ing noth­ing to do? We have cin­e­mas and swimming pools, sports halls, ten­nis courts and bowl­ing greens. We have wa­ter­fronts and es­planades, prom­e­nades and ferry ter­mi­nals, and emerg­ing mar­itime quar­ters that will be­come hubs of leisure and recre­ation ac­tiv­ity. We are em­brac­ing café cul­ture and fos­ter­ing an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of out­door street scenes and night­time economies. There is a col­lec­tive will for these changes to hap­pen across the West High­lands and Is­lands, and our chil­dren and grand­chil­dren will ben­e­fit from them. Tak­ing lo­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity for shap­ing the fu­ture of our coastal set­tle­ments is an op­por­tu­nity not to be missed, but we all have a part to play and must not ex­pect un­lim­ited pub­lic sub­sidy.

The pub­lic, lo­cal au­thor­i­ties, com­mu­nity coun­cils and busi­ness op­er­a­tors can and must work to­gether for mu­tual ben­e­fit. Short- term, piece - meal projects rarely de­liver any kind of last­ing ef­fect – the re­cov­ery and sus­tain­able growth of our sea­side towns is about civic pride, and that can­not be im­ported in the form of a tsar.

Fid­dler David Boag, piper Alas­dair Fraser and gui­tarist Michael Simp­son of Feis Rois pre­pare to launch the Cross­ings Fes­ti­val – a se­ries of per­for­mances or­gan­ised by var­i­ous artists on board Cale­do­nian MacBrayne fer­ries through­out the High­lands and Is­lands.

The small­est steam launch in the fleet. Ev­ery­thing hand-made by John Fin­lay, Oban.

The Ladies Lifeboat Guild had their sales ta­ble out on Sun­day at In­ver­aray.

This bus of yes­ter­year took peo­ple from Ar­dr­ishaig to Tar­bert and back.

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