Race to get harbour project signed off

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By Hugh Boag

The agencies involved in the Ardrossan harbour redevelopment face a race against time to get the £35 million project signed off in four weeks or face further delays.

Two key members of the Ardrossan Harbour Taskforce, the  Scottish government and North Ayrshire Council, enter a six-week purdah period in advance of the Scottish parliamentary elections on May 6.

Ministerial approval to proceed with the project, from Islands minister Paul Wheelhouse, will therefore be required by late March to allow the programme timetable to be met.

Purdah is the period between an election being called and it taking place, which prevents central and local government from making announcements that could be seen to be advantageous to any candidates or parties in the election.

‘Significant progress of relevant funding and legal agreements will therefore be required in coming days otherwise further delay of around three months is likely to occur,’ according to a report considered by North Ayrshire Council last week.

The report by Karen Yeomans, director of growth and investment at North Ayrshire Council, also outlines the reasons why it has been decided that the Arran ferry will sail to Troon during the redevelopment works, as reported in last week’s Banner.

It is envisaged work at Ardrossan will start in autumn 2022 for 21 months. During this time the Arran berth will be realigned leaving only the Irish berth available for the Arran service, leading to concerns of considerable disruption to services.

In another twist, the new much-delayed MV Glen Sannox vessel, which is currently under construction, is due to start on the Arran route late 2022 but cannot use the Irish berth because of her size and would need to operate from Troon, or another port.

As a result the proposal is for the Arran service to operate from Troon from September 2022 until the spring of 2024.

The council report states: ‘One of the main reasons for the move is service resilience. It is projected by CalMac that operating from Ardrossan during the construction work would see an average winter cancellation rate of 20-25 per cent. This is due to the service having to operate from the Irish berth which is more exposed to the prevailing south westerly wind. The projected rate of cancellation assumes that one cancellation within a day would require all of that day’s sailings to be relocated.’

There was also consideration of the capital cost of investment required to support the operation of the service from Troon and the provision of a temporary works package at Ardrossan as well as the revenue cost, considering the increased operating costs associated with a Troon service.

The economic impact was a factor as well as it is feared up to 100 jobs could be lost from within North Ayrshire with the ferry service relocated to Troon during the construction work.

That would arise from the loss of spending in the Three Towns, a slight reduction in day trips to Arran given a longer journey time via rail and the difficulty encountered by employees who currently access work on Arran from the Three Towns.

Arran’s MSP Kenneth Gibson said: ‘While I would have preferred for the ferry to remain in Ardrossan throughout the process and have fought for years for that to be the case, the delay to harbour works beginning on site has inevitably led to this decision. One hopes that the redevelopment of Ardrossan harbour can now be progressed.

‘Of course, if the Tories hadn’t privatised Clydeport – now Peel Ports – Scottish ministers would not have had to spend years in endless negotiations and the harbour would have been redeveloped by now.

‘Throughout this period and beyond, I will do what I can to ensure communities and constituents impacted by the temporary diversion, both in Ardrossan and elsewhere on the mainland, and on Arran, receive maximum support.’

A spokeswoman for Associated British Ports, which owns and operates Troon harbour,  said: ‘We are pleased that Troon harbour has been chosen as an alternative berth for the Arran ferry service during the planned upgrade of Ardrossan harbour.

‘We will continue to work closely with Transport Scotland and CalMac to develop ways in which we can help offer additional resilience to help keep ferry services going.’