Candidate: Tobermory Harbour

Location: Isle of Mull, UK

Category: The Great Place Award

Year: 2011

Tobermory Harbour Association, who led assessors through this particular visit, has a history of over 25 years as a dynamic voluntary sector organisation undertaking place-based improvements to Tobermory Harbour. Governance and operational management structures and procedures are robust. The Association is strongly rooted in the local community through its governance arrangements and ongoing contact with local schools, residents and businesses. Good relationships with the local authority and other external partners have been fostered over the years, with an emphasis on positive partnership working to create win-win scenarios. The Association’s collective vision is embodied in an overall strategy for the Harbour which is refreshed every few years. There is good community input to this process.

The assessors noted that the ongoing maintenance of areas of public realm not in the direct control of the Harbour Association – for example, adopted roads and footways and associated railings – could be improved. There may be scope for the local authority to work more closely in partnership with the Association, so that their maintenance activities are more closely integrated. Nonetheless, we believe that the governance aspects of the nominee merit a ‘Strong’ ranking.

The Harbour Association has undoubtedly been dealt a good hand: they are blessed with a physical asset, Tobermory Harbour, that possesses unique qualities of character and distinctiveness. They also have a cultural asset and an entrepreneurial community with a strong ethos of self-help, which has helped them to make the most of that physical asset. In the spirit of good place-making, the Association has made the most of its assets. Guided by its overall strategy, it has taken opportunities to create moorings and pontoons, business space, and facilities for local residents and visitors. All of these initiatives have contributed to making the harbour a more vibrant and economically active place – and, equally, to the local character and distinctiveness of the place.

The assessors consider that there is scope to improve the aesthetic quality of the spaces around the Visitor Centre and its connection to Main Street. Nonetheless, the way in which the Harbour Association’s activities support and contribute to the local character and distinctiveness of the town’s setting, and are rooted in a dynamic local culture, again merit a ‘Strong’ ranking.

The improvements made to the Harbour by the Association over the last 25 years have contributed significantly to Tobermory’s resurgence as an attractive place to live, work, visit and enjoy. The assessors believe that the Association’s drive and commitment over more than two decades has made a huge contribution to the town’s growing population and business base, and its increasing attractiveness to both tourists and islanders. The importance of these contributions goes way beyond the harbour: as the biggest settlement on Mull, a vibrant and active Tobermory plays an important part in keeping people on the island and attracting new residents.

The Harbour Association could be described as ‘community entrepreneurs’. Their entrepreneurial flair has established the Association as an independently viable enterprise which provides a number of year-round jobs, based around the income-generating assets that it has developed on water (moorings and pontoons) and land (the Visitor Centre and associated facilities). Because the Association is a non-profit community-based organisation, the benefits of this enterprise are ploughed back directly into the local economy and community. The assessment team noted how vibrant the town centre was – with a virtual absence of vacant commercial units compared to many other small Scottish towns, for example. What is particularly noteworthy is that the Association wishes to expand its community-based entrepreneurial activities and do more of the same. It plans further investment in the harbour, for example, which will further bolster the local economy as well as providing more income to support the Association itself.

In terms of economic and social sustainability, the Harbour Association is exemplary – thanks to its roots in the local community and its independent financial viability. The assessors noted that the Association is also trying to ensure that it is environmentally and ecologically sustainable, through a heat pump and recycling, amongst other initiatives. Although we believe that there is room to achieve more in this area, that does not detract from a ‘Strong’ ranking for sustainability.

The Harbour is an eminently functional place, thanks not least to its compact geography. Accessibility, legibility and the disposition of uses generally work well. Whilst we have some detailed concerns around pedestrian access between the Visitor Centre and Main Street being routed through an area designed primarily for motor vehicles, we believe this is a relatively minor concern given the low traffic flows. We also recognise that the Association does not control adopted roads and footways, and is largely dependent on partnership working with the local authority and adjacent landowners to implement improvements. We hope these partnership arrangements will strengthen and improve over time.

The Academy of Urbanism (Number 2) Limited is a not-for-profit organisation limited by guarantee registered in England and Wales 0595604, 11c Milton Road, Cambridge CB4 IXE, United Kingdom.
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