Bus ban sign row prompts Fort high street re­tail­ers into ac­tion

The Oban Times - - NEWS - EL­LIE FORBES eforbes@oban­times.co.uk

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.’

Pho­to­graph: Iain Fer­gu­son, The Write Im­age.

Fort Wil­liam busi­ness­man Drew Pur­don at the bus stop near­est the High Street as a tourist bus braves the ban to drop off pas­sen­gers.

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