Bus ban sign row prompts Fort high street retailers into action
MORE than 20 Fort William High Street businesses have signed up to a new retail association after the Highland Council opposed the removal of controversial signs stopping coaches parking near the town centre.
Signs banning coach tours dropping off holiday-makers at bus stops close to Fort William High Street, as reported in the
Lochaber Times April 13, have been in place on bus stops in Middle Street.
Plans to remove the signs after an outcry from town centre shop keepers were opposed by a few Fort William councillors.
High street shopkeepers were angered by the move, claiming tour buses visit the town daily and bring valuable customers to the town’s businesses.
Councillors held a meeting in private last week to try to resolve the issue of where tour buses can drop off visitors to the town. They have now agreed the bus stop beside the Nevis Sport shop, and at the West End of town, can be used as coach drop- off points temporarily.
It was also agreed a consultation would be carried out with interested parties with a view to improving coach arrangements.
Those due to be consulted are Lochaber Transport Forum, the Disability Access Panel, Shopmobility, Lochaber Chamber of Commerce, tour bus companies and evening businesses.
But High Street shop owner Drew Purdon, who first raised the coach issue, is concerned town businesses will not have a seat at the discussion table so started the association.
With more than 20 business already signed up, Mr Purdon said the association aims to ‘protect and promote the interests of high street businesses’. Mr Purdon told the Lochaber
Times: ‘The council is planning a consultation about coaches in the town, but don’t seem to be planning to include one retailer in the high street. There is a great deal of concern about what will happen with the coaches stopping and puzzlement as to why it has taken councillors five years to come to a decision.
‘This decision about stopping coaches parking in local bus stops came from Inverness. They were changing the rules so decided to inflict the same ones on Fort William without any knowledge of the number of coaches we get and how important they are to the town.’
A retail association with 35 members was set up about 12 years ago. Mr Purdon said the group met regularly and were consulted on High Street matters.
He said: ‘ We [shop owners] have been ignored in the past. We have no body which represents all of the High Street and it is one of the biggest employers in Lochaber, representing around 150 jobs.
‘Coaches bring so much business to the town and are here every day of the week, and we want to maintain that. Businesses will struggle if we can’t.
Senior ward manager Dot Ferguson said: ‘ We have already stated we would be consulting with Lochaber Transport Forum, Access Panel, Shopmobility, Chamber of Commerce, tour bus companies and evening businesses over the next two to three months with a view to improving arrangements. We would be content to consult with the retail association if they can get in touch with contact details.’
Fort William businessman Drew Purdon at the bus stop nearest the High Street as a tourist bus braves the ban to drop off passengers.