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The concept of a marina in East Loch Tarbert became firmly established through the efforts of the Tarbert Pier Users Association under the chairmanship of Kenny Maclean. Their efforts culminated in the engagement of W. A. Fairhurst & Partners in 2011 to conduct an outline technical feasibility study into pontoon provision in East Loch Tarbert, work which was funded by HIE. While the Fairhurst report provided an encouraging foundation on which to take pontoon provision at Tarbert to the next stage, events taking place in the nearby island of Scalpay would prove to be critical in terms of the overall direction of marine development in the East Loch.

When the island was gifted to the community by its owner in 2012, one of the key projects identified in the associated feasibility study was the development of marina facilities. Given Scalpay’s marine heritage, extensive fishing interests, sheltered harbour and its popularity as a yacht anchorage in the summer months, this was no surprise.

However, the emergence of a second pontoon project a short distance away from the Tarbert site created issues which, potentially, could have had a disastrous impact on both. With public money increasingly at a premium, the chances of either project attracting the level of funding necessary to bring them to fruition would be seriously reduced, particularly if community support was divided along ‘partisan’ lines. A radical re-evaluation of the way forward was required. 

It was clear that a new project brief which could command community support was required and to that end a steering group representing all the main stakeholders was formed. Following a period of extensive local dialogue and with invaluable support from Lewis Mackenzie of HIE, it was agreed that the best way forward was to commission a new study covering the whole of the East Loch which would evaluate the Tarbert and Scalpay sites.

A new study was duly commissioned, the work being undertaken by Wallace Stone who delivered the final report in September 2014. It was an unequivocally positive report and made a strong economic case for developing a ‘twin-location’ marina, a proposal which was endorsed by the steering group and became the focus of its work for the next three years – a continuous round of meetings, letters, emails and funding applications.

Finally in March 2017 the award of £300k from the Coastal Communities Fund completed the £1.35 funding package required to construct two sets of pontoons in the East Loch – one at Tarbert adjacent to the new distillery and the other at Scalpay’s North Harbour close to the Scalpay Bistro. A competitive tendering process resulted in the construction contract being awarded to Gael Force Marine, a company with extensive experience in the sector. Work commenced a few months later in August 2017 and was completed on time and under budget by October 2017.

Although the pontoons became fully operational in 2018 under the dynamic leadership of Fred Taylor, it was decided that the ‘official’ opening of the marina should be delayed until the following year when the inaugural Feis Mara na Hearadh would 

provide a fitting and high-profile platform for celebrating the completion of the project. 

Many individuals, organisations and agencies contributed to the development and delivery of the marina project over a long period of time, but some contributions merit particular mention. 

The quality of the professional support and advice available to the steering group was outstanding throughout, especially that provided by Kenny Macleod (CnES Economic Development Officer) and John Porteous (Wallace Stone), whose experience in delivering projects of this nature was critical in bringing the project to a successful conclusion.
The project is also indebted to Highlands and Islands Enterprise, which not only awarded a substantial sum to the final funding package, but also funded the initial options appraisal by Wallace Stone on which the funding applications were based and guided the steering group through the intricacies of the procurement process in the latter stages. The pivotal role of the Scottish Government, which recognised the wider strategic importance of the project and contributed almost 50% of the total cost, must also be highlighted. Awards from CnES and LEADER completed the financial package. 

Gordon Macdonald
Steering Group Chair 2012-17

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