The ‘new’ pier in Craignure marked the arrival of regular motor vehicle transport to the island. It was enabled by a gift of £50,000 (equivalent to £710,000 in todays money) from Neil Cameron, a businessman with close Mull ties. Together with grant aid from central government, this enabled the then Argyll County Council to build the pier in 1964.
A little later in 1973, the roll-on roll-off linkspan was added, and the busy vehicle port as we know it today was complete. Since then there have been few changes (aside from the concrete round-head added in 1988 due to design mistakes on the MV Isle of Mull), and after 54 years of service the pier faces two challenges – old age and questionable suitability.
Whilst the pier is still safe, the concrete structure is beginning to show signs of deterioration, that if left unchecked will lead to structural problems. The fendering is deteriorating too – on the south side in particular. The linkspan has carried millions of vehicles, and it too is in need of refurbishment. The CMAL-owned linkpans in Coll and Tiree are being replaced in 2019 / 2020; and although Craignure Pier has carried many times more traffic and is much older, there is currently no schedule for its replacement.
When first designed, the pier was built for much smaller ships than Caledonian MacBrayne operate now. The side-loading MV Columba (pictured above) was 72 metres long and 2,000 tonnes – compared to the Isle of Mull which is 90 metres long and 4,700 tonnes. The Isle of Mull is now being superceded by even larger vessels – the new multi-fuel Glen Sannox and its sister ship are 102 metres long and around 6,000 tonnes gross.
The limitations of the pier are already being felt in several ways –
- CalMac now have a ‘no bump’ policy in operation because of concerns about damaging the ageing structure. This contributes to cancellations in windy weather.
- CalMac are reluctant to berth the MV Isle of Mull over-night in Craignure, because she is considerably longer than the berth. This results in frequent cancellation of the late night arrival / early morning departure sailings on Friday and Saturday
The unsuitability of the pier for CalMac’s larger ships is also becoming more of an issue. During the summer we now have two ferries, one of which has to over-night in Craignure. The Coruisk was chosen for this role in part because she is relatively small and does not present a problem for the pier. From summer 2020 however, the Ferries Plan intends for a larger ship – possibly the MV Hebrides once she is replaced on the Uig triangle by the sister ship to the new Glen Sannox – to work the Oban-Craignure route alongside the Isle of Mull. When this happens, one of these two large ships must berth overnight in Craignure.
The Oban – Craignure route is among the most congested on the entire CalMac network, operating at 82% of capacity during the peak of the season. Unless Argyll and Bute Council make improvements before 2020, there will be no remedy to that situation.
There are therefore two challenges for Craignure Pier – firstly, to be ready for the Isle of Mull to over-night every night from 2020. Secondly, to be ready for the long-term and another 50 years of lifeline service.
The Ferry Committee have been pushing for an Island Focussed Service for many years. That requires the Isle of Mull to over-night in Craignure reliably every night. This requirement is now aligned with the vessel deployment plan for 2020, making the need for pier improvements urgent.
As a result of our lobbying for pier improvements, in 2018 Argyll and Bute Council commissioned a Scottish Transport Appraisal Guidance (STAG) report. This report assessed both the intermediate improvement and the long-term replacement of the pier. At the time of writing, this report is out for community consultation, and will go forward for a decision on funding in the Council in early 2019. We have responded by concentrating on the interim plans, since these are the most urgent. The longer-term plans for the replacement of the pier will take many years to refine, fund and design.
Ultimately, a replacement for Craignure Pier will be needed. That will take many years to design, fund and build. We will do our utmost to contribute to that process, and being a major development for Mull and Iona, the whole community must be fully consulted. Craignure Pier is an essential lifeline for the whole of Mull and Iona; but it is also a big physical presence in the village of Craignure. It is therefore important that the right design balance is struck.
We will keep you updated on the STAG report and everything concerning the pier. Meanwhile below you can see the full STAG report and our formal response to it.
The STAG report was initially due to be completed and presented to the Council late this month, however the consultants have been tasked with further examination of the long-term options, resulting from the consultation feedback received.
The Ferry Committee is primarily focused on the short-term options, and ensuring that improvements are made, ready for the planned deployment of the MV Hebrides from the summer of 2020, in place of the MV Coruisk. With that in mind, a joint letter from the Ferry Committee, Iona Community Council, Mull Community Council and Mull and Iona Community Trust was sent to the Leader and Chief Executive of the Council. Below you can read that letter and the subsequent replies.
A decision on whether to proceed with interim improvements is due early this year.