On Tuesday members of MIFC went to the first meeting of the “Craignure Marine Infrastructure Liaison Group” in Craignure. Formed and chaired by Argyll & Bute Council, it will be a forum for Mull & Iona community groups (Mull Community Council, Iona Community Council, Mull & Iona Ferry Committee) to meet with the key public bodies (A&B Council, Transport Scotland, CMAL, CalMac) in order to consult and communicate through the coming years as the new Craignure pier is planned, designed and built.
There was significant discussion regarding the current condition of Craignure pier, we’ll be able to say more when we receive a response to our letter of May 27th to Mr. Sneddon, the Council’s Chief Executive. However, on one key and easily-remedied aspect of the pier – lighting – we were delighted to receive an undertaking from Councillor Roddy McCuish (Chair of the Harbours Board) that the pier and marshalling area lighting would be improved this year in time for the winter timetable such that it would be entirely to the satisfaction of CalMac. Previously reported lighting issues include the wind sock being unlit, the marshalling area reliance on a mobile lighting tower hired in during the winter, and the difficulty of rope-catching on a poorly-lit pier has been cited as one of the contributory factors influencing cancellation decisions, particularly for the Friday and Saturday late sailings in the winter; CalMac officials again confirmed this at the meeting.
The meeting also discussed the interim proposals in the STAG appraisal. We had hoped that a final decision would have been taken on whether any interim works would go ahead. Interim improvements are required in order to enable anything larger than the Coruisk to come on service, currently anticipated for 2021 for the summer service, and are essential for the full day winter service we so desperately need. However, it seems that interim measures are to be considered together with the long-term pier replacement, and will be subject to a business-case analysis. This process is lengthy. Writing the business case will take 10-12 months, then, if interim works are deemed to be viable (ie be value for money), they would then have to be tendered for before work could commence. We understand from Councillor McCuish that the decision on this likely to be made by the full council, so there will be a lot of hoops to jump through before the council makes a decision. The upshot is that these essential interim improvements are around three years away from completion (if they happen at all). On this timetable, it is therefore inevitable that Craignure Pier will NOT be ready for the planned larger summer vessel when one comes available, and delays again the full day on the mainland during the winter.
In an effort to properly inform decisions and move things along as quickly as possible, Councillor McCuish made a second undertaking – that the Marine Department would investigate and cost alternative best-value options for Craignure pier that were not considered in the STAG process. We were surprised that the MIFC response to the STAG which included a low-cost ‘dolphin’, and indeed other suggestions which were sent in by the community appear not to have been considered yet. That said, we were heartened when Jim Smith the Officer in Charge of Roads and Transport, which includes ferries, told us that he has a number of ‘in house’ marine experts who will be able to undertake these investigations rather than having to spend more time and expense tendering for that investigative work.
It was also agreed that a post-meeting note be added to the minutes of the meeting with an agreed timescale for the in-house marine experts to develop a budget cost for the low-cost interim solution discussed in the meeting.
CalMac will also have to look at their choice of ferries, and consider if any other major ships in the fleet (other than the Coruisk) could over-night at Craignure in its current configuration.
The date for the next meeting was not agreed, but the group is committed to meeting at least every 6 months.