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It has been a busy eight months for the Arran Ferry Action Group who launched, with overwhelming public support, last April. Since then they have been campaigning for improvements to the Arran ferry service. Here, in a special report for the Banner, they outline a summary of their initial activity and their future plans.
Our first eight months of operation have been frustrating. Those responsible for our ferry infrastructure and service are defensive of their decisions and reluctant to embrace any suggestions for improvements. We have repeatedly been denied access to information and refused participation in redevelopment decisions. Our local MSP refuses to engage with us.
Sadly, this has meant we have had to invoke Freedom of Information requests and threaten legal action to be taken seriously. These procedures inevitably take weeks to follow through. However, with ever-increasing public support we continue to demand improvements — and insist that mistakes are not repeated. Ironically, many of our suggestions would save further funds being wasted.
Port of refuge
Reliability and resilience is most folks’ top priority, so a crossing to a port of refuge on days when the ferry cannot berth at Ardrossan would make the most significant difference. This would enable residents to travel to essential mainland appointments and visitors to adhere to travel plans. Historically, Gourock proved effective. With no viable alternative, we continue to press for the investment essential to restore its operation. Sadly, those in control remain stubbornly resistant, in spite of us reporting your frustrations.
We think it may strengthen our campaign if we can present statistical data of the problems we all experience when sailings are cancelled. To this end we ask you to record any disruption to your travel plans on our new survey, accessed at the following web link: http://tiny.cc/b64phz
Preventing further mistakes
It is now widely accepted that the investment of £31m in Brodick has resulted in a less reliable ferry service, due to the new berth’s susceptibility to wind and swell. Since the Scottish Government Minister asserted that the planned redevelopment of Ardrossan Harbour would increase reliability and resilience, we have repeatedly challenged him to provide the technical evidence on which he based his optimism. When polite requests were ignored, we resorted to a Freedom of Information procedure. This eventually produced redacted documents, so we appealed to the Information Commissioner, who is currently pursuing the Government department on our behalf.
Following the flagrant waste of money poured into the new Brodick terminal, that in so many ways is unfit for purpose, we have lobbied persistently to play our part in the Ardrossan Task Force to ensure that lessons have been learned and similar problems avoided there. All parties have opposed our involvement, so we invoked the Community Empowerment Act in the hope of legal process eventually overturning this rejection. Last week, this too was rejected by Scottish Ministers.
What is everyone afraid of? You can follow our correspondence on our new website at: www.arranferries.scot
Preventing further accidents
When we asked our 1,200 supporters about their experience of navigating the steep stairways in the Brodick terminal building, we were inundated with comments. Some members suggested that installing an escalator would be the most effective solution. This suggestion was repeatedly made to CMAL at the consultations held on the island before the building of the new terminal, but our voices were ignored. Nevertheless, there was almost unanimous support for the erection of a central handrail. Seven people reported trips or falls on the stairways. We passed a seven-page summary to CalMac’s MD, Robbie Drummond, who expressed his support. Since then we have run into opposition on the basis of potential non-compliance with Building Standards, even though the Inspector is open to the improvement. We have now warned CalMac of the likelihood of legal action being taken in the event of further falls. CalMac claim that nobody has reported any accident to them, so if you witness any incident, please let them and us know.
Strength in numbers
The problems we face are replicated all up the West Coast. For this reason we have been establishing communication with other ferry action groups with the intention of joining forces to campaign for improvements.
We have also been grabbing every opportunity for media coverage, with articles in The Herald and interviews on both STV and BBC. Our chairman, Gavin Fulton, recently contributed to a BBC news feature to coincide with the announcement of the future of the ill-fated Glen Sannox. The full report is on our website, together with contradictory opinions.
Many factors contribute to satisfactory ferry journeys and we continue to campaign for improvements in public transport connectivity, particularly with Arran’s buses, which all too frequently leave foot passengers stranded at the Brodick terminal. With dogged determination over recent months, we have also been lobbying for the introduction of a simple procedure that would streamline the purchase of concession tickets while still complying with SPT regulations. We keep being told such initiatives are impossible, which only demonstrates the disinterest of those in control.
With your support we press on and remain hopeful of some satisfactory outcomes in 2020.
The Arran Ferry Action Group are seeking the upgrading of Gourock so it can be reinstated as the port of refuge. No_B01AFAG01
The group are campaigning for a handrail, such as this one at St Enoch station, to be installed at the Brodick terminal. No_B01AFAG02
Committee member Sally Campbell being interviewed for STV News. No_B01AFAG03
The group would like to see better integration between the ferry and bus services. No_B01AFAG04