This week we had a very positive meeting with several key officers from Argyll & Bute Council, to discuss Craignure Pier. When a fender fell away from the pier completely unprompted in April, it was a dramatic demonstration of what had been clear for some time – that Craignure Pier was being badly neglected. In order to establish the extent of the problem, we set about examining maintenance records through a Freedom of Information request.
After lots of press coverage and a meeting with the CEO of the Council, it looks like some positive changes are being made.
We’re concerned about the pier, because it is has a major influence on the reliability of our service. It’s not just dramatic and obvious things like big bits falling off, but the long-term and insidious damage that is done to the confidence of Ships’ Masters, when they see fenders un-repaired for months on end; navigation lights left dark for almost a whole winter; a tattered and neglected windsock; and temporary diesel work lights instead of proper fixed lighting. When the weather is poor and a heavy berthing likely, the Master has to be be confident that the fenders will hold, and the pier staff will be able to catch ropes safely in the dark.
So we are very pleased to hear on Monday that Council management are putting lots of improvements in place:
- The linkspan hydraulics are getting a long-overdue overhaul. Old hoses, manifolds and control gear is being renewed and refurbished. Later this year both main hydraulic rams will be swapped and refurbished. A structural survey will follow soon after.
- A stock of replacement fender parts are now being held (previously there were none), for speedy replacement when needed
- The maintenance and monitoring regime is being overhauled, most notably by appointing a new full-time ‘Pier Warden’ (look out for the job advert) who will manage all of the council piers and slips on Mull and Iona.
- One issue we have pushed particularly hard on is lighting. A specialist lighting survey has now been undertaken. The lighting will then be upgraded to meet the recommendations of the survey.
- Fendering on both the North and South faces of the pier will be refurbished before the winter.
- A list of approved contractors is being assembled, which will enable repair work to happen more quickly.
Longer term upgrade
We also used our time to chase up on progress toward ‘interim’ improvements to the pier. We’re delighted that the most pragmatic and cost-effective solution of adding a ‘dolphin’ to the end of the pier is being taken forward for detailed assessment by the Council. (A dolphin is a free-standing structure that the boat can berth against, separate from the pier.)
A dolphin is the interim solution we proposed in our response to the Craignure STAG report. This relatively simple structure would add the berthing length needed to enable the MV Isle of Mull to over-night at Craignure all year round. It would also enable a ferry larger than the Coruisk to be paired with the Isle of Mull in the summer. It would therefore give us significantly more capacity in the summer, and the year-round Island Focused Service we have long campaigned for.
The dolphin has been costed by the Council’s own engineers at £4 – £7 million. This is very different to the £12 – £17m scheme proposed in the STAG, and is more likely to be financially viable, in view of the age of the pier.
The next step is the preparation of a business case study. This has now been commissioned by the Council, and should report back in February. If the business case is positive, there will then follow a lengthy process of engineering studies, permitting and procurement. That’s before any physical work can commence. This whole thing will take at least two years, and therefore the earliest the dolphin might be completed is 2022.
However, it looks likely that the MV Hebrides (or another major vessel) will be available to work the Oban – Craignure route alongside the MV Isle of Mull from 2021. If the pier works are not complete, then that ship will be deployed elsewhere.
We are therefore engaging with the Council to see how we might be able to help speed the process. With the help of MICT we are looking at the possibility of adding to the business case study with an economic impact study.
Regardless of the outcome of the Council’s decision process on the dolphin, we are also pursuing funding from Scottish Government that would enable an Island Focused Service regardless of the configuration of Craignure Pier. We hope to have news on this later in the year.