COUNCILLORS have thrown their weight behind a bid to bring a 143-year-old Port-built ship home to Inverclyde after the man behind the plan accused Municipal Buildings officials of 'small-mindedness'.

The opposition SNP group is supporting the proposal to transport Falls Of Clyde from Hawaii to Greenock's Victoria Harbour and return her to working condition as part of a major marine heritage venture.

Environment and regeneration spokesman, Councillor Chris Curley, says that Falls of Clyde International Ltd should be 'commended' for saving the ship.

The SNP's backing for the project comes just days after the man spearheading it, David O'Neill, accused council officials of 'hypocrisy' concerning his bid to transform Victoria Harbour into a visitor destination.

Mr O'Neill said: "The council rejected us because the plan to rebuild the hull is seen as an industrial application, which they say is not acceptable on that site.

"We have overcome many obstacles but it seems the only thing we can't overcome is the small mindedness of Inverclyde Council.

"They told us we couldn't do it because it would be an industrial application, yet less than a mile up the road at Inchgreen Dry Dock they've greenlighted a ship scrappage operation."

But there is clear support from elsewhere within the council for the project.

Councillor Curley said: "As a group we welcome the news that the Falls of Clyde should be setting sail for her birthplace on the Clyde once again.

"The Falls of Clyde International are to be commended for their efforts in saving the ship from being scuttled off Honolulu and their vision to see the ship return to active use promoting sustainable trading, including educational and training."

Councillor Curley added: "We believe that Inverclyde is the best option for the home of Falls of the Clyde, albeit that there will be challenges ahead to deliver the project.

"The proposal fits well with the other proposed projects for Greenock town centre and the harbours, including the demolition of the Oak Mall and improved townscape, renovation of the Glebe building and the new West of Scotland College campus at the harbours.

"These ambitious projects together offer the opportunity to turn around Greenock town centre and Inverclyde, moving us away from managed decline to a positive vision for Inverclyde."

Falls Of Clyde was built in 1878 at Russell & Co's yard in Port Glasgow and was the first of eight bespoke ships, finishing her career as a sail driven oil tanker.

Her seven sister vessels were either lost during the two world wars or at sea after succumbing to storms, leaving her as the only surviving iron-hulled four masted ship.

Another SNP councillor, John Crowther, said: "I first met David O'Neill of FOCI in 2017 and have been a supporter of the project ever since.

"I welcome and support the sterling work of Falls of Clyde International and, in order that this project becomes reality, we require all interested parties to work together in order to bring it to fruition.

"It is acknowledged that the innovative Falls of Clyde project will be a major challenge and will put the skills of our naval architects and marine engineers to the test.

"However I take comfort in the fact we have a high skills base capable of converting the Falls of Clyde into a state-of-the-art vessel."

An Inverclyde Council spokesman said: "Pre-planning discussions are a normal part of the planning process allowing applicants to seek advice from planning officers about potential local developments.

"Any proposal, no matter how worthy or exciting, still needs to comply fully with planning law and policy and our planners, like those right across the country, will always try to support people and organisations who approach them for guidance.

"Clearly there are challenges with such a hugely ambitious project that will require significant private investment but, as we've said before, bringing the Falls of Clyde back to Scotland is a truly exciting project and would be a great addition to the maritime offering on the Clyde and could serve as a showpiece of Scottish shipbuilding."