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The Arran ferry is expected to use the Irish Berth while major improvement works are carried out at Ardrossan Harbour.
This was strongly suggested by Islands Minister Paul Wheelhouse during a meeting with a delegation from the Arran Ferry Committee and Arran MSP Kenneth Gibson last week.
The announcement is expected to be made at the next meeting of the Ardrossan Harbour Taskforce on April 23 despite opposition to the move by Caledonian MacBrayne who have raised safety worries and other concerns over the move.
The Arran delegation, led by community council chairman Bill Calderwood, met Mr Wheelhouse and and Graham Laidlaw of Transport Scotland at a meeting which lasted 75 minutes at Holyrood last week to express their concern at the crisis of confidence in the island’s lifeline ferry service.
The ferry committee were pleased to have an opportunity to offer islander perspective on ferry strategy and the minister pledged to look for more ways to include community in forward planning.
Mr Wheelhouse acknowledged the ongoing situation which the Arran community is experiencing and accepted the issues are compounded by the continued delay in delivery and introduction of the MV Glen Sannox to the service. He confirmed that he awaits a revised delivery day from Ferguson Marine and share the concerns of the current dates being achieved. He confirmed ongoing political and legal discussions between all parties will continue and said the Port Glasgow yard still insist the vessel will be delivered by the end of 2019.
‘We stressed the growing frustration from all sectors of the community and the need for answers, accountability and importantly, future plans,’ Mr Calderwood said in a summary of the meeting given the the ferry committee on Monday night.
Contingency measures are being considered and the recent additional sailings over Easter were approved in recognition of the demand.
The delegation highlighted other ‘opportunities’ to deploy the Isle of Arran which were supported. The minister and Transport Scotland confirmed that CalMac have authority to allocate available capacity where demand is shown to exceed the intermediate timetable in April and subsequently 44 additional sailings were announced.
Additional crewing to allow the current fleet to operate beyond the published timetables was discussed. CalMac had presented a proposal which currently has not been agreed due to costs and perceived practical limitations. Minister was asked to support this approach which was also being followed up by another sub group.
With regards to the booking system, the Scottish government and CalMac were said to be working to replace this. They contract will be out to tender shortly, to be in place by this time next year. This should make booking a smoother process and mean that people would automatically get an email e.g. if they were getting moved onto the next boat, should it be full or disrupted.
Recent post annual maintenance experiences were also highlighted as a restriction in providing reliable service. An additional £4m of funding has been announced to improve this, Mr Wheelhouse told Mr Gibson in parliament after the meeting.
The delegation also requested the minister to support and facilitate a network meeting with Transport Scotland, CMAL and CalMac to collect and record all ongoing issues in one ‘workshop’ type forum.
Transport Scotland suggested that they had communicated with the Community Board however the need was for the government to generate and implement a revised ‘ferries plan’ which recognised the ageing fleet and agreed a build plan providing six major vessels in the timely manner. These vessels should be of a standard design and able to be deployed to multiple locations if required. The minister is meeting other authorities, operators and legal guidance to clarify several challenges which are currently open. Press coverage of options for Islay, Pentland Ferries. Northern routes etc were all acknowledged but are all subject to commercial, legal conditions.
Afterwards Mr Gibson said: ‘There is an opportunity for more ferries to be built under the Scottish Government’s Capital Investment Infrastructure Mission to boost fleet numbers. Meanwhile, Transport Scotland is looking to purchase second-hand boats and have already looked at 16/17 around the world. However, due to the unique nature of Scotland’s ports and harbours, all have been rejected as unsuitable.’
Islands minister Paul Wheelhouse.