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Infrastructure woes on Arran
So the long-awaited £30m ferry terminal doesn’t work properly. No surprises there then. I along with many others had to embark and disembark via the car ramp last week as we’ve had to before the big investment. A nice introduction to the visitors, who contribute to the local economy, so that they can have their fillings rattled and tyres and suspensions blown by the island’s terrible roads. And as for the cyclists they might be lucky enough to get away with a few cuts and bruises as they get pitched into a pothole.
But wait! There is news of the council’s £1m proposed investment in the roads. £1m sounds like a lot but it won’t go very far at today’s prices. Maybe part of the investment will go to supplying a few more team members with shovels and buckets of filler which will get washed away in the first rain. Or maybe we’ll be lucky and some proper heavy machinery with skilled operators will arrive. Or maybe not.
The very large hole in the road at Whiting Bay is a good example of ‘let’s ignore problems and they may go away’. Over two years ago I reported the potential future problems in store by not attending to obvious erosion of the sandstone wall on which the new sea wall had been seated. The council office reply was ‘we are aware of the situation’. Obviously they weren’t.
Arran is a beautiful island visited by visitors from all over the world It has some wonderful tourist attractions. Rotten roads and the absence of public toilets are not two of them. On the latter point, I find it surprising that a house located close to a sewage pipe running underneath a public road still has to use a septic tank.
Arran isn’t part of the Third World – come on, let us embrace the 21st century. Still it’s comforting to know that the council taxes are being put to good use – for something or other.
Disillusioned and disappointed.
I note with great interest the comments of the CalMac interim managing director, Robbie Drummond, in last week’s Banner, warning that passengers are facing widespread disruption on Scotland’s ferry network and attributing the cause to potential breakdowns and delays due to its increasingly ageing fleet.
This problem has not just suddenly arisen; any study of the rate of build of the larger vessels shows an undeniable decline in the vessels per annum entering the fleet in the last 11 years.
For the communities concerned, their economies and their visitors, it is the consequences of an ageing fleet that are the real concern, and they are twofold – it causes both capacity issues and mechanical unreliability.
Sufficient capacity to meet demand and reliability are key.
Unreliability for extreme weather is understandable and we live with it. Unreliability and lack of capacity caused by neglect and lack of investment – and even worse, bad investment using public funds – is not acceptable.
The present fleet is nowhere near sufficient to allow for breakdowns or a properly managed and necessary annual dry docking maintenance programme and other unforeseen contingencies. It is incontrovertible that the older the vessels, the more maintenance required thus more down time and more expense. The fleet is almost certainly two large vessels short to meet today’s needs over and above the two currently in build.
Mr Drummond correctly addresses the distinction between CalMac and CMAL, the former being the operators and the latter the owners of the vessels and ports. However what is critical but seldom understood is that both are bound to seek the approval of Transport Scotland (TS) and thus effectively the approval of the Transport Minister.
It is with TS that the causes of all of the problems lie, not with the operators. But it was CalMac who took on the recently-let eight-year contract knowing the state of the fleet and the increasing demand – it is coming back to bite it already and to that extent it is complicit.
Future ferry projects must learn quickly from the mistakes in concept, management, and scope of the current costly Brodick to Ardrossan and Uig triangle projects with possible final costs in the region of £200m. No part of these projects has run to schedule with the ‘state of the art’ but totally unnecessary overpriced and untested gas-driven vessels delayed by up to two years. In that time at least three or possibly four conventional vessels could have been in service.
Mr Drummond, in his upfront ‘new broom’ approach merely forewarns the traveller, but this does nothing to resolve the problems, namely the fleet age and size.
With the rapid deterioration of the road network on the island and the sharp increase on tourist to the island following RET, coupled with reduced funding of the local authority, it would appear that we could devise a simple but effective tariff to compensate the island and improve it directly for the visitors and residents alike.
CalMac stated in its annual report for 2016 figures: ‘The busiest route overall in the network continues to be Ardrossan in North Ayrshire to Brodick on the Isle of Arran, carrying 828,262 people and 202,843 cars in 2016 – a rise of 8.7 per cent and 6.84 per cent respectively’.
It would seem fair that non-island residents paid a levy of say £1 per return passenger and £10 per car and £20 per campervan or caravan (irrespective of size) and this would be paid to the island at the end of each financial year for road improvements and a percentage to community improvements.
This is no different to the city/local tax levied on hotel rooms in many other countries. The overall cost to the traveler would still be less than prior to RET and would help the island communities and ensure that the future overall experience for tourist would be maintained.