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The Palnackie Harbour Wall Upgrade Project
and Legal Issues Concerning the Harbour

The harbour serves as a symbol of our shared heritage

Echoing the language of the 1901 order in Parliament that established the Urr Navigation Trust, PHUG (Palnackie Harbour Users Group) represents the community of users who are the beneficiaries of that trust. While not strictly beneficiaries, the Palnackie village community is a significant stakeholder in its local harbour. Over recent years, differences of opinion and outlook have often arisen between the user and village communities.


PHUG welcomes the news that Scottish Water is embarking on the long-awaited harbour wall upgrade on the south side. We are confident that villagers are also pleased that a major capital investment project is underway, one that is visible from their doorstep. This construction project presents an opportunity for both communities to come together, find common ground, and live in harmony. For this to happen, there must be a shared understanding of the historical facts and legal situation.

The Condition of the Wall

Due to a lack of stewardship by the Urr Navigation Trust over many years, the harbour in Palnackie was allowed to silt up. A grassy bank filled the south side until recently. A 2011 engineering report commissioned by Scottish Water stated that the south wall needed to be replaced or strengthened. When sewage tanks were installed, various ties were cut for the coffer dam, but not all; you can currently see this as parts of the wall where the ties remain are still standing.


A harbour is intended for boats and boat users, and the recent rise in activity underscores the ongoing demand for Palnackie's charming port. This demand necessitates creating access for crafts to both sides by removing the silt. The dispersion of the silt against the wall (technically not dredging) made it apparent to all that the retaining wall had collapsed. However, the structural failure of the wall had already occurred, primarily due to a lack of maintenance and, regrettably, sabotage by severing its supporting ties.

The Duties and Responsibilities of Scottish Water

The removal of the silt only revealed what had transpired long before. No wrong was committed by removing the silt; structural walls are not meant to rely on "protective mud" for support. Unfortunately, Scottish Water had not followed their own recommendations to intervene before the wall failed, even though they were notified before the silt was removed. They have a legal responsibility to keep the wall in good shape and maintain public access.


Subsequently, they have omitted facts in the national press, attributing all blame to "unlicensed dredging work." While this narrative is supported by the complicit journalists, a comprehensive understanding of the situation reveals a different perspective on who is truly responsible. It is concerning that Scottish Water's PR tactics are accepted as fact in the village. An honourable admission of maintenance oversight or error would be forgivable, provided they rectify the situation.

It is easy to cast Scottish Water as the villains, being a large, faceless corporate entity. However, this oversimplifies the issue and absolves the village community of its own contribution. Title deeds (as well as statute law) state that Scottish Water must maintain the harbour wall and associated public access rights, which is undisputed. It takes a collective effort from both users and villagers to ensure that these obligations are fulfilled. Village dog walkers, picnickers, and artists are all harbour participants too.

A Repeat of Sewage Plant Issues is Possible

To avoid having a sewage plant near houses, the village allowed tanks to be installed in a scenic spot beside the river. This area now frequently emits a foul odour of human waste, and there are discharges into the Solway due to high tides overflowing the tanks. Pollution of the Scottish coast with untreated effluent is currently a national concern. A similar situation has arisen in the north of Scotland with a troublesome sewage plant on common land, and the local community has united to assert their rights.


This has not occurred in Palnackie, and Scottish Water has been given excessive leeway with the Council's assistance. While it is not PHUG's role to dictate how the village community manages its sewage, based on precedent, it is easy to envision a project outcome involving lawsuits, loss of access or amenity, and poor aesthetics. Mistakes could take generations to rectify, if they can ever be addressed. While it is tempting to blame Scottish Water or the Council entirely, it is ultimately the duty of the general public to manage their shared asset.

Lack of Proper Consultation with Stakeholders

Designing an upgrade for a historic harbour in an environmentally sensitive location involves both substance and form issues. Unfortunately, it appears that there has been no organized effort to engage relevant stakeholders to gather their requirements for the building process and the final product. Many stakeholders should have the opportunity to provide input: disabled users, fishermen, walkers, canoeists, artists, military personnel, the elderly, boat occupants, delivery services, environmental groups, coastguard, tourism interests, wild swimmers, schoolchildren, and more.


If left to their own devices, Scottish Water will likely construct a well-engineered wall meeting modern safety standards. However, to illustrate the kinds of issues that need addressing, when an engineer recently reviewed the plan and shared it with PHUG, it seemed to omit mooring bollards, a basic oversight for a harbour. Other issues concern what to do with occupied boats in the harbour during construction and how to manage environmental risks in case of damage to sewage tanks.

Legal Problems Concerning the Harbour Area

A controversy persists regarding whether public access includes a right of way for vehicles. Old photographs clearly show vehicles at the dockside, and OS maps depict a car park. Providing maximum access to all, in line with historic and lawful entitlements, should be a priority for the Council. Regrettably, the opposite is happening, with the Council assisting Scottish Water in excluding harbour users with lawful access.


An issue less known to most in the village community is the (lack of) legal capacity of some individuals who claim to represent the Urr Navigation Trust, having not undergone the appropriate processes to become elected trustees. They do not represent the interests of the beneficiaries but pursue their own schemes. Being a trustee entails significant public responsibility, not a means to acquire power over others.


Worse, it appears that the harbour area is slowly experiencing asset stripping and land theft. Unlawful transfers are being registered with the Land Registry, and illegal acts clearly amount to charity fraud. Official filings have involved perjury. Taken together, these anomalies arouse reasonable suspicion of a conspiracy to deny the village and user communities their inheritance.

There will come a day when this harbour wall still stands,
but we are all long gone.

Let's work together to get this wall and sewage issue right now, for the benefit of those yet to be born.

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