An­gry re­tail­ers warn bus ban is putting jobs at risk

The Oban Times - - News - EL­LIE FORBES eforbes@oban­

AN­GRY Fort Wil­liam re­tail­ers say more than 200 High Street jobs could be at risk if coaches are stopped from drop­ping pas­sen­gers off near the town cen­tre.

Mem­bers of the Fort Wil­liam Re­tail As­so­ci­a­tion called the High­land Coun­cil’s de­ci­sion to stop tourist buses let­ting pas­sen­gers off at ser­vice bus stops an ‘abom­i­na­tion’ when they met last week.

An emer­gency mo­tion to solve the sit­u­a­tion was called for by one re­tailer at the meet­ing with coun­cil­lors An­drew Bax­ter, Ben Thomp­son and Blair Al­lan.

It was said the de­ci­sion to stop coaches park­ing near the town was made in In­ver­ness and in­tro­duced in Fort Wil­liam with­out con­sul­ta­tion.

Drew Pur­don, chair­man of the re­tail as­so­ci­a­tion, said: ‘This is an abom­i­na­tion. We don’t know where it came from, but our elected coun­cil­lors were not privy to this de­ci­sion.

‘This came from non- elected of­fi­cials who know what they earn week-to-week.

‘We don’t know what we will earn day-to- day. We were kept in the dark.

‘The High­land Coun­cil is in breach of its own pol­icy to strengthen the High Street be­cause this ac­tion was taken against the High Street. We still have this anti-High Street, anti-buses feel­ing from the coun­cil.

‘I thought it had died away years ago. There are 200 peo­ple em­ployed on the High Street by busi­nesses in tourism and rates of £1 mil­lion are raised by High Street busi­nesses so we should surely get a say on what hap­pens.’

Mr Pur­don ex­pressed grave con­cern the de­ci­sion will frighten off coach com­pa­nies, with some al­ready con­cerned about park­ing ar­range­ments.

‘If the coaches go to Ben Nevis Dis­tillery or out to Spean Bridge in­stead of com­ing into town be­cause there is nowhere for them to stop, we could end up los­ing half of our trade,’ he said.

Eric Wal­lace, who has had a newsagent and gift shop on the High Street for 30 years, said: ‘I’m not here just for my­self. I am here for my staff be­cause they de­pend on me.

‘This is not just about busi­nesses los­ing a bit of profit, this is about jobs.

‘I have never en­coun­tered any prob­lems with buses in the 30 years I have been on the High Street and then one day they are just banned.

‘I don’t want to lay off staff in the win­ter when it is quiet, but two jobs are at se­ri­ous risk if the coun­cil take away 10 per cent of my busi­ness in the sum­mer.’

An­other re­tailer, who asked not to be named, said: ‘It’s not just In­ver­ness, In­ver­ness, In­ver­ness.

‘The coun­cil needs to look at the big­gest town in the High­lands and it’s high time we got paid more than lip ser­vice.

‘I think an emer­gency mo­tion should be taken to Mar­garet David­son [leader of the coun­cil] to get this re­solved im­me­di­ately.’

Ben Thomp­son said the strength of feel­ing about the fi­nan­cial im­pact was ev­i­dent.

He said: ‘I, too, am a re­tailer so I sym­pa­thise with you. I don’t lay off my staff in the win­ter so we need to reap in the sum­mer as it makes up for the win­ter.’

An­drew Bax­ter said: ‘This de­ci­sion was taken in In­ver­ness. But any de­ci­sions about park­ing pro­vi­sions should be made by elected coun­cil­lors.’

Mr Bax­ter said coun­cil­lors would con­sider ev­ery­one’s opin­ion and talk to bus com­pa­nies be­fore a fi­nal de­ci­sion was made.

An­other meet­ing is to be ar­ranged.

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