Fenders repair pledge to end repeat early ferry disruption

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Urgent repair works are to be carried out at Ardrossan harbour in a bid to end the repeated cancellation of the first daily ferry to Arran.

New figures show nearly a third of the 7am journeys from Ardrossan to Brodick have been cancelled in the last 15 months.

But this week Peel Ports agreed to spend £100,000 on maintenance and repair at the harbour which will require closure of the Arran berth, meaning possible further disruption of the lifeline service.

The cash injection was announced at a virtual meeting of the Ardrossan Harbour Task Force on Tuesday, set up to deliver the multi-million-pound re-development of the harbour, which has not met since February.

The issue of the poor fenders was raised at First Minister’s Questions by Arran MSP Kenneth Gibson last week.

This followed concerns raised by a number of Arran constituents and the Isle of Arran Ferry Committee of service cancellations and basic maintenance being neglected by Peel Ports.

Mr Gibson said: ‘I am delighted that my question to the First Minister has prompted swift action.

‘The 7am service is vital to ensure that goods, contractors and workers can arrive on Arran in good time. Over the last 15 months 29 per cent of these sailings have been cancelled and while 73 of these cancelled sailing were due to adverse weather, 36 were not.

‘It is vital that necessary repairs are now carried out as soon as possible, with the minimum disruption to services achievable following consultation with the Isle of Arran Ferry Committee and due notice subsequently given to ferry users.’

In his reply to Mr Gibson, Transport Minister Graeme Dey said:  ‘As you will be aware any disruption or cancellations to ferry services is a matter for the operator; CalMac Ferries Ltd (CFL).

‘CFL has advised that the cancellation of the 7am sailing was weather dependant and only occurs on those days where the vessel has been unable to berth at Ardrossan overnight.

‘Where the wind direction is anything westerly, it is unsafe for the vessel to berth at Ardrossan’s main pier, and in these circumstances she carries out an additional sailing in the evening from Ardrossan, which does means she is out of position and unable to carry out the 7am from Ardrossan to Brodick.

‘This is unfortunate but necessary to ensure the safety of crew, the vessel itself and the infrastructure at Ardrossan.

‘In addition CFL reviewed the service data and have advised that since September 2021 of the 374 scheduled 0700 ex Ardrossan sailings, 109 have been cancelled. Of this 73 were cancelled with a reason code of adverse weather or shore issues (which would be what the Port would record these cancellations as).

‘It is not possible therefore to determine from the stats we have in hand whether it was specifically the fender issue that was the cause as it may be that the vessel would have had to reposition and cancel anyway as a result of the weather.

‘It is the responsibility of the statutory harbour authority to maintain its asset and ensure it remains fit for purpose. CFL continues to engage with Peel Ports on any operational issues when they arise and, at the December 7 meeting of the Ardrossan Task Force, Peel Ports advised that around £100,000 worth of maintenance/repair work will be undertaken on the port infrastructure in the near future. This will require the Arran berth being closed and Peel engaging with CFL to arrange this outage period and where practicable minimise any further disruption to ferry services on the route.

‘Transport Scotland continues to meet with representatives from the Isle of Arran Ferry Committee to discuss any service and timetable related matters, as well as ongoing discussions with Peel Ports and North Ayrshire Council on project development.

‘You will be aware that the Scottish Government has announced investment of £580m in ports and vessels to support and improve Scotland’s ferry services over the next five years, as part of our wider Infrastructure Investment Plan, unveiled in February. This includes the Ardrossan harbour redevelopment project and other associated infrastructure works at Troon port to provide support for services during the Ardrossan construction period and use as an alternative mainland port for disruption to CFL services.

‘Discussions continue with Peel Ports Group on the project delivery options and related commercial agreements. These are challenging discussions but a resolution must be found to deliver improvements in a practical and cost effective way, reflecting the needs of all of the partners involved. We remain committed to finding a sustainable and appropriate long term solution to secure the best use of Ardrossan for connections to Arran.’