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By Hugh Boag
The people of Arran have spoken and with one voice have demanded action is taken to improve a ferry service they say is not fit for purpose
More than 160 residents turned out to a public meeting in Brodick Hall on Tuesday night and with a series of shows of hands proved how disgruntled they are with, what is supposed to be a lifeline link to the mainland.
Now a new action group has been formed to fight for improvment, not just in the short term, but strategically for the years ahead.
The meeting had been called by a group of ‘concerned residents’, who were the nine signators of a letter in the Banner last week, who said they wanted to give the travelling public a voice.
At the outset the chairwoman Dr Sally Campbell said they wanted to public to think they had been ‘listened to’ and come up with some ‘stragic suggestions’
‘It is important that we are really clear what we want for the ferry now and think strategically about the services Arran needs in the future,’ she said.
She also insisted that calling the meeting was not intended as a criticism of the other organisations on the island, such as the Arran Ferry Committee and the community council working for a better ferry service, but to give the residents themselves a chance to give their views.
After more than an hour of discussion Robert Cumming from Lochranza was keen the gauge the mood of the audience. He said: ‘Firstly could all those who feel our lifeline service is not fit for purpose in terms of reliability, infrastructure and accountability please said their hands.’ There was wide support for all three votes among the audience.
Mr Cumming continued: ‘In calling this meeting as concerned residents, we have a vision of a new, fresh, progressive, and an apolitical lobbying organisation to represent our communities interests in service issues.
‘The remit would include joining with other representatives to form a west coast ferry action group, as there are huge problems across the network, and also make sure pressure is brought to ensure that future investment in vessels and infrastructure is appropriate.
‘The proposed action group would be properly constituted with members elected by the public. It would give an absolute guarantee to keep the public fully informed of its work and progress and respond to their ongoing concerns and suggestions.
‘So could those in favour of such an organisation please raise their hands?’ There was an almost unanimous show of hands and a rousing round of applause from the gathering.
Mr Cumming then added: ‘So we go forward with a steering group to deliver such an association and we would cordially invite anyone wishing to join the committee to let our secretary, Chris Attkins, know as soon as possible.
From the outset chairwoman Dr Sally Campbell made it clear this was to be no greetin’ meetin’ and was not intended as a forum to discuss the problems of the past but look to the future as to what the travelling public wanted the ferry service to deliver.
And it came loud and clear from the gathering that the first priority for the lifeline service was reliability.
The action group said they were there to listen to the people and after a short introduction that is exactly what they did. There were no speeches, instead it was left to the people to speak.
And Dr Campbell helped keep this structured and succinct with a short time allocated to the range of topics under discussion, with questions and answers kept under a strict time dictat.
The first was in relation to harbours and terminal buildings and while it was accepted that there were problems with the Brodick terminal, particularly in terms of the lifts, walkway and the distance to the buses, what came through loud and clear was a determination the same should not happen with the redevelopment at Ardrossan.
The topic of a port of refuge provoked a wide discussion and it was largely agreed that while this had been a ‘low key’ issue of late it was time it was put back on the agenda with Gourock the largely preferred choice, although Hunterston, Wemyss Bay and Troon were all mentioned in the debate.
Booking and ticketing was another issue which the meeting felt needed urgently addressed with concerns expressed at the lack of capacity, particularly since the introduction of RET, the inflexibility of the booking system, problems with concession tickets and hope that, in future, island residents could get priority bookings.
The meeting then moved on to the ships and there naturally was much discussion about the new MV Glen Sannox with questions asked not just about its deployment, which could not be answered, but about its suitability for the route, given the works needed at Ardrossan and the use of liquified natural gas (LNG) on the dual-fuel ferry. There was also concern that the new vessel, described as a ‘cruise liner’ and her sister ship can only service on the Ardrossan-Brodick and Uig Triangle routes, given their design.
Group member Bob Haddow said the government had hinted it was considering building six identical ships to serve the west coast routes in the future which could service on a variety of routes and this, given economies of scale. and the practicalities of a more frequent year round two ferry service, using smaller vessels, was seen, generally, as a sensible way forward. There was also a suggestion of a nightly freight only sailing to clear up space on daytime sailings.
There was also a brief discussion on extending the Lochranza to Claonaig service over the winter months, which Lochranza village committee has been pressing for.
The meeting which had been orderly an well run throughout closed at 8.20pm after 1 hour and 20 minutes of debate. Questionaires which out to the audience to fill in were collection as they left and these will be assessed before the new committee draw up an action plan.
Anyone wishing to get in touch with the new group can do so at: firstname.lastname@example.org