Gateway to the Isles faces gift-wrap

OBAN has been the 'gateway to the Western Isles' since the geological grandeurs of the island of Staffa became popular in 1772. Since then, pilgrimages to St Columba's island of Iona and the inspiration of Sir Walter Scott's The Lord of the Isles have drawn a procession of visitors to the port.

Today, hundreds of thousands of tourists, vital to the west coast economy, make Oban's tourist office the fifth busiest in Scotland and holiday-makers spend an estimated pounds 20m a year there.

But the gateway is about to be redeveloped. Plans to build a pounds 4m town square at the Railway Pier will be recommended for approval by Argyll and Bute planning committee on Wednesday. Charles Hunter, a local historian, describes them as 'a disaster'.

The scheme, by the developers Plimley Holdings, will occupy the site of an old railway yard which the town agrees is an eyesore. But there the harmony ends. At the end of an acrimonious six-year saga, most townspeople are 'scunnered with the whole bang shoot'. Many believe, but only a few are prepared to say, that the planned shops, offices, flats, ice-rink, library, bistro, bus station and superloo will clash horribly with their Victorian neighbours.

Some are angry that plans for a luxury hotel have been dropped. The curling fraternity wants an ice-rink bar 'to attract spectators'. Others say that Oban needs expensive flats, offices and shops like a hole in the head.

It all began in 1986 when British Rail demolished Oban's much-loved Victorian station. 'We fought long and hard to save it,' says David Walker, chief inspector for Historic Scotland. 'It was a fine example of a Victorian terminus.'

Protesters did manage to save the station's clock tower, which was carefully dismantled and stored. But the intervening years have taken their toll, and now a replica will be built under the plans by the Johnson Smith Partnership, of Cupar in Fife.

The scheme has undergone several mutations since 1987. In fact many - including the local MP, Ray Michie, the provost of Oban Cathedral and even some of the town's architects - say they have no idea what the final development will look like.

The fake slate roof to the main four-and-a-half-storey building has gone, but what planners describe as 'the dormer windows of traditional Highland architecture' have been introduced.

Last year, Plimley completed the pounds 2m first phase, a 'Heritage Wharf' containing a glass-blowing studio, visitor centre, tea- room and shops, which lulled some fears: the staggered, square little buildings all have distillery- style roofs. But the visitor centre pays only lip service to the town's real heritage and, like the hotel, a promised archaeological museum has failed to materialise.

Peter Plimley, a surveyor turned developer, said: 'We did a survey and found that another hotel would not be profitable.' Nor, in the short term, would a museum. But neither have ice-rinks turned a profit in other parts of Scotland, say his detractors, who believe the one planned for Oban is a 'sweetener'.

It is almost 100 years since the town last erected a building of note: John McCaig's unfinished, grey granite replica of Rome's Colosseum. For 70 years it bore the nickname 'McCaig's Folly'; today townspeople present it proudly to the world.

The tower is made of Bonawe granite. 'History won't look so kindly on Plimley's town square,' says Mr Hunter. 'But at least it won't last so long.'

(Photographs omitted)

Suggested Topics
News
Shoppers at Selfridges department store in central London
news

News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleFormer Newsnight presenter is being touted for a brand new role
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Voices
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
News
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
News
i100(More than you think)
Sport
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
News
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Sport
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
FOOTBALL
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML, CSS, SQL

£39000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML,...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game