Craignure Pier Joint Letter

Whilst there has been some positive progress with Craignure Pier, the pace of decision-making toward significant upgrades is frustratingly slow. Today a letter has been sent to the CEO of Argyll & Bute Council Cleland Sneddon, signed jointly by Mull Community Council, Iona Community Council, Mull & Iona Ferry Committee, Mull and Iona Community Trust, and Councillor Mary-Jean Devon.

Here is the text of the letter:

Dear Mr Sneddon

The Craignure Marine Infrastructure Liaison Group (CMILG) has met twice now, and is beginning to provide a useful forum for local representatives and your officers to consult on the future of Craignure Pier.

We are pleased with much of the progress made through CMILG and at recent meetings with the Mull & Iona Ferry Committee. In particular the over-haul  of the maintenance regime; the lighting survey and the refurbishment of the linkspan hydraulics. We are hopeful that when complete, these improvements will boost the confidence of CalMac crew and the resilience of the service.

We are also very pleased that through CMILG, we were able to establish that the main interim pier extension option proposed in the STAG was over-specified. Our concern was that a price tag of £12m – £17m was prohibitive for an interim solution and would therefore leave only the long term option on the table. Subsequently your officers have costed the most practical and prudent solution – a simple round dolphin. At £4 – £7 million, this is a modest and pragmatic option that will enable the twin service improvements of a) an Island Focussed Service, where the sailing day begins and ends on Mull year-round, and b) deployment of a larger vessel to replace the MV Coruisk as planned in the Vessel Replacement and Deployment Programme (VRDP).

It is the second of those two improvements to which we particularly need the Council to pay close attention. Argyll & Bute Council’s duty to prepare Craignure pier for the deployments laid out in the VRDP is an obligation that Scottish Government, Transport Scotland, Caledonian MacBrayne, and the local community expect the Council to honour. We are therefore very concerned that although the VRDP initially required Craignure Pier to be finished and ready for a larger vessel by 2018, we are still at the early stages of the decision-making process, and physical work on the pier is still years away.

The Oban-Craignure service is at total saturation during the summer months. The lack of car deck space results in local people and businesses being unable to travel to and from the mainland; and the tourist economy is being strangled by the inability of visitors to get here.

The plans that your officers are now working up for the upgrade of Craignure Pier are around six years late. If delivery of hull 802 had occurred on schedule in the summer of 2018, the Council would have been in the shameful position of preventing the much-needed replacement for the MV Coruisk from working the route. This would have been not just an appalling waste of taxpayers’ money, but a dereliction of the parallel duties the Council has to its island communities and the ferry services that use its piers.

Thankfully from the Council’s perspective, hull 802 is at least 2 years late and this outcome has been deferred. The new ship is not likely to be available to relieve the MV Hebrides (so that she in turn can work the Oban-Craignure service) until the summer of 2021. As we have stressed in previous correspondence, the Council needs to recognise the lateness and urgency of works at Craignure Pier. What we have learned from the CMILG meetings and the slow pace of progress is that the Council remains stubbornly deaf to the crisis. Having tediously worked through the STAG appraisal in the past 18 months, we are now entering the next phase – the Outline Business Case. That may take us to the spring of next year. Then will come internal Council decision making, committee approval at various levels, budgeting, planning, permitting, procurement and finally physical work. Whilst of course the Council needs to demonstrate prudence and due process with its investment decisions, it needs to balance that with some pragmatism and urgency in addressing an impending transport crisis. Had a bridge collapsed, a repair would not be subject to such a time-consuming process. Yet the situation we have here is not dissimilar – we face the prospect of years with a major transport bottle-neck, whilst the wheels of decision-making grind slowly and perpetually around.

In order to positively assist and add to the procedural momentum, MIFC (with the help of MICT) are investigating the possibility of supplementing the Outline Business Case with an Economic Impact Study of our own commission. We hope this will demonstrate the opportunity cost of delay to the economies of Mull and Iona. Your officers have been very positive in working with us on this suggestion, and we will soon be liaising with them and the consultants undertaking the Outline Business Case study, so that our efforts are co-ordinated and productive. The objective of producing this EIS is to demonstrate and justify the need to ACCELERATE the formal processes required for raising finance from prudential borrowing and government grants. We are keen to do this (and find the funds to pay for it), in the spirit of positive and co-operative engagement – we urgently need a positive outcome and we will do more than just carp from the side-lines in order to achieve it.

In the final months of your tenure as CEO, we need you to urgently and positively engage with this issue also. We need you to please look closely and imaginatively at the process the Council will follow, and find solutions that will speed things up. Can any of the forthcoming studies be amalgamated, completed in parallel with one another, shortened or done away with altogether? For example, it seems to us that the OBC is comparing some options that can easily and logically be discounted now, on the basis that they do not meet the required outcome. The improvements to the South-side berthing will not enable the VRDP deployment, and so should be removed from consideration. The caisson pier extension with a price tag of £12-£17m can also be discounted, because it is agreed by everyone including CalMac to be over-specified and uneconomic. Any option that does not enable the VRDP (particularly the status quo ‘do nothing’ option) should also be discounted. That leaves only one viable intermediate option – the simple round dolphin. The council certainly needs to find the best value means of doing the work, but it is obvious to everyone involved that a dolphin that your officers have already costed at £4 – £7m is the only choice.

We are therefore asking you to please:

  1. Confirm that any solution that does not enable the deployments planned in the current VRDP will immediately be discounted.
  2. Commit the Council to meeting its obligation of enabling the Vessel Replacement & Deployment Programme without further delay.
  3. Consult with Transport Scotland, your officers and others as relevant to identify the shortest possible procedural route through to commencing work.
  4. Once identified, please detail that procedural route, including all of the key outcomes and dates that need to be achieved in order to have Craignure Pier upgraded as quickly as possible.

Your recent apology and subsequent enquiry into the events surrounding TRO201 demonstrate an admirable ability to take responsibility and control of a situation when things have gone wrong. Your personal desire for better community engagement, and your sincere recognition of the special and often difficult circumstances of island life was also clear. We look forward to hearing from you, and trust that you will recognise the need for action on Craignure Pier.

Mull Community Council, Iona Community Council, Mull & Iona Ferry Committee, Councillor Mary-Jean Devon, Mull and Iona Community Trust.

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