On Thursday March 28th, Officers and Councillors from Argyll and Bute Council, accompanied by the Head of the Ferries Unit in Transport Scotland met in Craignure with members of the Ferry Committee, Mull Community Council and Iona Community Council. They came to present the outcomes of the Craignure STAG appraisal (Scottish Transport Appraisal Guidance) report looking at future options for Craignure Pier.
We were shocked and disappointed to find that none of the interim improvement options had been amended to reflect community consultation, and all interim options (other than on-going maintenance) were missing entirely from the conclusions of the report.
In order for the Isle of Mull to berth overnight routinely in Craignure and deliver a truly Island-Focussed Service, moderate improvement works are needed. In addition to pressure from us to re-invest some of the £1.5 million annual profit from Craignure Pier and enable over-night berthing, the Council also have an obligation to prepare for new ferry deployments by CalMac.
When hull 802 (currently in construction) enters service, the MV Hebrides will be freed from the Uig triangle to work alongside the Isle of Mull in summer. With insufficient berths in Oban, one of the two vessels MUST berth overnight in Craignure. This planned deployment has been known by the Council since 2013. Had hull 802 been delivered on time it would be happening this summer. It now looks likely to happen in 2021, so fortunately for the Council they still have two years to take action.
Those same moderate interim improvements that are needed for an Island Focussed Service are also needed for the deployment of the MV Hebrides, yet there still seems to be no action from the Council to enable it. Based on what we were presented with on Thursday, Argyll and Bute Council seem to be intent on doing nothing to improve Craignure Pier, and will wait instead for an outside funding package that will enable its complete replacement in 7 – 10 years time. If this is the course they continue down, not only will they block an Island-Focussed Service, but they will also force the Coruisk to stay on the route, and a service that is already at full capacity will remain strangled and full until around 2029.
Needless to say we are not prepared to accept this state of affairs, and we will be pressing for interim works to go ahead, at the very least in time for the deployment of the Hebrides. To this end, Councillor Roddy McCuish (Policy lead for Piers and Harbours) agreed at the meeting to separate the urgent interim works from the STAG process and move them forward urgently.
During the meeting Council officers asserted that they were unaware that the condition of Craignure Pier was a factor in the increasing cancellation rate. We have been present at meetings with the same officers and management from CalMac where it has been made quite clear that the age and poor state of repair of the pier is indeed causing Masters to be more cautious, so this was surprising to say the least.
We will be sending evidence of the condition of the pier to officers and Councillors, to be sure they are aware of the situation. For example – poor lighting is repeatedly cited by CalMac as one of the reasons they consider it unsafe to attempt mooring in poor weather on dark winter evenings, and an apparent ‘no-bump’ policy is in place because of the condition of the structure.
Long Term Replacement Options
In response to community feedback, two options for building a new pier within the curtilage of the existing pier have been added to the STAG appraisal. Both options are more costly than others, and will result in serious disruption to service for many months whilst the work is in progress. It was suggested however that option 1b could be modified and avoid service interruption if a second linkspan was added to the South side of the pier. This would also add resilience and flexibility to the finished facility. Council officers undertook to discuss this possibility with CalMac and the consulting engineers.
The next step is for the Council to take forward 3 options for further investigation. They will be 1b, 2a and 3a – shown below. This next stage could take 18 months.
There was also good discussion around the size and number of ferries that should serve the route, and the impact this has on the design of the replacement pier. A clear consensus among those representing local users emerged:
- Two or three ferries running at high frequency is better than 1 large ferry at low frequency.
- Those ferries should be as small as practical – likely to be 65 – 80 car capacity (The current Isle of Mull carries 65 cars).
- Ferries of 120 car capacity (ie the new hulls 801 and 802) are not wanted, because of the large volume released onto our narrow roads in one ‘burst’ (these large vessels are not planned for the route anyway)
- The marine-side of the new pier should be capable of berthing hulls 801 and 802, to allow for maximum flexibility during breakdown, winter dry-docking and emergencies.
- The shore-side infrastructure (ie the marshalling area and waiting room) should be as sympathetic to Craignure as possible, and be sized for 65 – 80 car capacity ferries.
It was reassuring to have Richard Hadfield there, (policy head of Transport Scotland Ferries unit) so that he could repeat to all what we already understood to be the case –
- There is no intention to run ships of the 801/802 size on the Oban – Craignure route.
- When it comes to selecting replacements for the MV Isle of Mull, Transport Scotland agree with the “small-as-possible and high-frequency” logic.
- Transport Scotland’s view is also that whilst the pier should be capable of accommodating the largest ferries on occasion, the shore-side infrastructure can be smaller.
These discussions were reassuring and positive. It was clear that the schemes sketched in the STAG are rough outlines, with a great deal of refinement still needed that will result in the most sympathetic and minimal-impact design possible – so long as rigorous local consultation is maintained.
Councillor McCuish agreed to hold another meeting with all present in about four weeks time, to address the interim improvement options. We will keep pressing on this urgent issue, to ensure that the Council uphold their obligations to enable the re-deployment of the MV Hebrides, now expected for 2021.