New traders’group wants say on fu­ture of cort eigh Street

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

A STRONG de­sire for High Street busi­nesses to have a voice on the area’s devel­op­ment was ex­pressed at the first meet­ing of the newly-formed Fort Wil­liam Re­tail As­so­ci­a­tion.

Twenty rep­re­sen­ta­tives from High Street busi­nesses met on Mon­day May 15 to dis­cuss the re­cent Highland Coun­cil de­ci­sion to ban coaches car­ry­ing tourists stop­ping in town cen­tre bus stops to let pas­sen­gers off.

Af­ter an out­cry from town cen­tre shop­keep­ers, plans to re­move signs de­tail­ing the dropoff ban were ini­tially op­posed by a few Fort Wil­liam coun­cil­lors. But, as re­ported in the Loch

aber Times of April 27, coun­cil­lors later 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.

High street shop owner Drew Pur­don who started the new re­tail as­so­ci­a­tion, which now has 32 mem­bers, was named chair­man at Mon­day’s meet­ing. Mag­gie Wilson from Highland Hospice was ap­pointed vice chair­woman and Si­mon Pur­don is sec­re­tary and trea­surer.

Drew Pur­don said: ‘The gen­eral con­sen­sus of the meet­ing was that the Highland Coun­cil de­lib­er­ately does not con­sult prior to en­act­ing de­ci­sions which are detri­men­tal to the high street.’

It was agreed the as­so­ci­a­tion would re­quest a meet­ing with coun­cil­lors as soon as pos­si­ble to en­sure the as­so­ci­a­tion’s con­cerns can be ex­pressed in ‘the strong­est pos­si­ble terms’.

Sec­re­tary Si­mon Pur­don said af­ter the meet­ing he was pleased with the turnout: ‘ We got a real sense of en­thu­si­asm and you can see there is a de­sire to have some­thing in place that can rep­re­sent re­tail­ers.

‘ We hope to main­tain that level of en­thu­si­asm and in the long term have an or­gan­i­sa­tion which has a say on the High Street and a vi­sion for it.’ Speak­ing to the Lochaber

Times, Ms Wilson said: ‘There was a meet­ing held in pri­vate with coun­cil­lors about the coaches. To my mind, that is not a con­sul­ta­tion. I un­der­stand no- one di­rectly af­fected by the de­ci­sion to stop buses was con­sulted. This was all done be­hind closed doors and this is an in­her­ent prob­lem we have in Lochaber.

‘This coach is­sue has sud­denly gal­va­nized peo­ple and there should be a voice for the High Street, be­cause you can't con­tinue to be by­passed, es­pe­cially on this cru­cial is­sue.

‘We need to have an open and trans­par­ent di­a­logue with the coun­cil be­cause had we been con­sulted the out­come would have been very dif­fer­ent.’

Ms Wilson said that while there have been ‘grum­blings’ about the coach prob­lem, she thinks, in time, there will other mat­ters the as­so­ci­a­tion will con­sult on.

‘ We need to have a vi­sion for the High Street that makes peo­ple want to come here and I think that is at­tain­able. When I look at the High Street, I see such po­ten­tial. But we need to be work­ing to­gether with the coun­cil.’

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