The link-span on Craignure Pier is currently getting a bit of an over-haul to its hydraulics. Over a number of visits, engineers are replacing hoses, valves and other components that were long overdue replacement. Some hoses were apparently nearly 30 years old, when good practice would have them replaced every 5 – 8 years. Later this year, one of the two hydraulic rams will also be swapped and refurbished – fixing an oil leak that has persisted for around 2 years.
Persistent link-span faults featured frequently in the years of weekly checklists we recently examined. It seems that our exposure of the poor state of the pier has provoked some catching-up on long-overdue work. So since publishing evidence that fenders had remained un-repaired for 19 months due to lack of spares, we now understand that fenders are being ordered in, to be held as spares!
We are pleased therefore that some improvements seem now to be occurring – though it should not have taken Freedom of Information requests and letter-writing to prompt it.
As a result of our FOI investigation, we recently had a meeting with Argyll & Bute Council Chief Exec Clelland Sneddon (with the Islands Minister Paul Wheelhouse also in attendance), where various pier issues were discussed. On the subject of maintenance, there was acknowledgement that things could be improved, and soon a dedicated pier master (their exact title may be slightly different) will be appointed. This should ensure that maintenance is managed more effectively. We are promised further meetings soon, with managers directly responsible for pier maintenance. We will keep a watching brief on this, particularly as winter approaches.
At the inaugural Craignure Marine Infrastructure Liaison Group (CMILG) meeting in June, a commitment to improve the lighting on the pier was obtained from Council Officers. Poor lighting has frequently been cited a a cause of cancellation by CalMac, who fear for the safety of shore staff attempting to catch ropes in poor weather and darkness. It was frustrating therefore, that Mr Sneddon denied that lighting (or any aspect of pier condition) had led to cancellations – aside from the two cancellations in May resulting from fender collapse. However, CalMac have made their frustration about the condition of Craignure Pier clear in the press, and to us. Mr Sneddon left the meeting with our evidence of increased cancellations in hours of darkness, and we think the message may have got through. We now have to wait and see if the promised lighting improvements come to fruition.
FUTURE PIER IMPROVEMENT
When it comes to medium-term pier improvements, we still have little confidence that any work will be undertaken to allow the MV Isle of Mull to berth overnight in Craignure. However, at the CMILG meeting, it was agreed by CalMac management that all that was needed is a simple ‘dolphin’, and NOT the £12m extension proposed. This is what we submitted in our response to the Craignure Pier STAG:
A ‘dolphin’ structure like the above is a relatively low-cost solution that would enable the MV Isle of Mull to make Craignure its year-round over-night home. Council officials undertook at the CMILG meeting to price the dolphin, and today we have learned that this estimating has been completed. The cost is estimated at £4 million. This is 1/3 the cost of the pier extension proposed in the STAG report, and demonstrates how over-specified it was. Given that Craignure Pier is nearing the end of its life, it was unlikely that either the Council or central government would be willing to spend £12m on upgrading it purely as an interim measure. £4m is a much more palatable figure. It will be paid back very quickly thanks to the £1.5m annual profit from the pier received by the Council.
Time is running out on this though. When the new ‘Hull 802’ finally enters service, it is planned that the MV Hebrides will replace the Coruisk as our second summer vessel. When this happens, the MV Isle of Mull MUST be able to over-night every night, just like the Coruisk does now. It looks possible that this will happen from the summer of 2021. If the Council fail to prepare for this, we will continue to struggle to get spaces on summer sailings, and the Hebrides will go elsewhere.
We have repeatedly emphasised to the Council that not only is over-nighting of the Isle of Mull essential to providing a year-round island-focused service, but it is their obligation to enable it, so that the deployment of the Hebrides (planned since 2013) can go ahead.
Next week we understand that Transport Scotland, CalMac and Argyll & Bute Council will be meeting to discuss the dolphin option, and (hopefully) make some kind of decision on whether it should be pursued or not.
We’ll keep you posted.