1. Meeting with Jamie Greene MSP
It was felt that this had been an insightful meeting, particularly to increase our understanding of the parliamentary process. This MSP is clearly knowledgeable about ferries and had encouraged us to direct our communications regarding service deficiencies to CalMac as the service provider, rather than CMAL or Transport Scotland. The committee remained somewhat sceptical of this approach proving effective, due to CalMac being restricted by its contract. It was however encouraging to note the apparent cross-party consensus across Holyrood with regard to West Coast ferries. Mr Greene was adamant that the Glen Sannox would eventually enter service on the Brodick/Ardrossan route, regardless of its suitability.
2.1 Participation on Ardrossan Task Force
Our recorded delivery letter to Paul Wheelhouse MSP of 4th July, Chair of the Ardrossan Task Force, requesting participation under the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, had remained unanswered. The secretary had e-mailed Mr Wheelhouse on 5th August, asking when we might expect a response. On 7th August a Transport Scotland representative had written to decline our application, on the basis that the Arran community is currently represented by the Arran Ferry Committee. Sharon Shenhav will liaise with our legal advisor in order to appeal this decision on the basis of our legitimate constitutional public representation. Sam Bourne suggested we invite the Ardrossan Task Force to a public meeting in Brodick to present their plan.
2.2 Evidence of Improved Reliability & Resilience
Following up on CalMac's uncooperative response to our Freedom of Information requests for evidence to back up the Ardrossan Task Force public assertion that the proposed redevelopment would improve the reliability and resilience of the Ardrossan/Brodick ferry service, as directed in their letter, on 16th July we had written to Crawford Anderson, CalMac's Group Insurance Manager to begin the appeals process. This letter had been copied to Paul Wheelhouse MSP. To date, neither had been acknowledged.
Transport Scotland also declined our FOI request on 18th July, citing exemptions due to protecting commercial interests and 'the full and frank discussion of issues between Ministers and officials'. The committee expressed their disappointment at this reluctance to share evidence that is so clearly in the public interest.
2.3 Concession Ticketing
Also on 16th July, John Ford had written to CalMac's MD, Robbie Drummond, appealing for a less protracted process of administering concession tickets and suggesting three potential solutions. CalMac had acknowledged receipt of this letter and stated they were thinking about the matter.
f2.4 Brodick Terminal
Ongoing correspondence had been exchanged as a result of Sharon Shenhav's letter to Michael Matheson, Cabinet Secretary of Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, initiated in May. A Transport Scotland representative had previously written in response and Sharon had replied on 5th July, querying several assertions, in particular the reasons given for the orientation of the pier. She had asked for sight of the wave/wind modelling, vessel simulations and marine engineering designs that led CMAL and CalMac to select the final design of the pier and terminal. She had further challenged Transport Scotland's assertions regarding the time taken for foot passengers to disembark, connectivity and other matters. Transport Scotland had responded on 6th August, setting out their position, which claims four years' 'extensive consultation' with ferry users, stakeholders and senior CalMac Masters, referring to 'cooperation and collaboration'. On this basis, our request for evidence had been considered unwarranted. Sharon asked Sam Bourne to draft a technically informed challenge to their decision to withhold relevant information. Robert Cumming suggested we ask how many times vessels had been unable to dock at Brodick due to weather conditions during the twenty-year period prior to reorientation of the pier. It was agreed that we would also request this information from CalMac.
Turning to connectivity, the Transport Scotland representative had informed us that 'neither Scottish Ministers nor Transport Scotland can instruct operators to make changes to their services'. This had astonished the committee. Sharon reminded the committee that the Minister had publicly committed to improving connectivity, which was at odds with the assertions from his office. Robert suggested that we propose to CalMac and Transport Scotland that when the ferry is delayed due to technical reasons or because of being busy, passengers who miss their connections should be compensated to enable them to take a taxi. He suggested timings be taken for pensioners, and a parent, toddler and pram to make their way from the ferry to the bus stance. This would provide clear evidence of the mismatch between ferry and bus timetables, permit appropriate adjustments, and allow compensation timings to be set.
3. Brodick Terminal Handrail
Sally Campbell confirmed that the stairways in the Brodick terminal complied with latest building regulations, as we had assumed. Nevertheless, these are a daunting prospect to people of all ages, especially when a large number are rushing downstairs for buses, with a very real risk of one or more passengers falling. It was agreed that we would raise the need for a central handrail with Robbie Drummond when we meet with him. It was also agreed that we would ask our supporters to tell us about any difficulties they had encountered on the stairways.
4. Karen Yeomans / Ardrossan Task Force
It had been refreshing to meet with Karen Yeomans, Director of Growth and Investment with North Ayrshire Council, who took time out of her busy schedule to meet with a couple of us to discuss how best we might collaborate with regard to the imminent developments at Ardrossan Harbour. Karen has a wide ranging brief, with an exciting vision for the area, including specific responsibilities for the new terminal building at Ardrossan. We were immediately impressed by her desire to work in partnership and willingness to listen to ensure the best possible solution to the land-side facilities at Ardrossan harbour. Karen is open to pragmatic suggestions and left us in no doubt she is determined to oversee redevelopment that significantly benefits the area, and everyone using the Ardrossan/Brodick route. We look forward to playing our part in constructive collaboration in the months ahead.
5. Meeting with Robbie Drummond
Brian Fulton, CalMac's Director of Director of Community & Stakeholder Engagement, had arranged to meet with Gavin Fulton to schedule an initial meeting with CalMac's MD, Robbie Drummond.
6. Potential Broadcast Television Interest
Following her participation in the Panorama programme about fish farming, Sally Campbell had written to the producer suggesting there might be mileage in a programme about West Coast ferries. The producer had responded, suggesting this was probably of more interest as a longer term news investigation. The committee agreed this was a good idea and asked Sally to follow up. Sam Bourne volunteered to speak to a colleague with a connection to the BBC Gaelic department. Bob Haddow had spoken with STV, who had expressed interest and had arranged to meet with him next week.
7. Committee Structure
Sam Bourne proposed that the committee might restructure to address specific areas, with representatives concentrating on each. It was agreed there was a need to recruit two or three additional members on to the committee. Several names were suggested and approaches would be made.
Nigel Armstrong had previously volunteered to help compile data and was now actively doing so, coordinating with Joe Reade, Vice-Chair of the Mull & Iona Ferry Committee, who has mapped and presented compelling data.
9. Kenneth Gibson
The committee were disappointed that our constituency MSP had still not met with us. It was agreed that the secretary would invite him once more, pointing out that we had already enjoyed a very informative and constructive discussion with Jamie Greene MSP and would welcome a second opportunity.
10. North End Ferry
Robert Cumming reported that the Lochranza Community Association had received a response from CalMac following their request for a winter service. It had required a Freedom of Information request to establish this was because of safety. Various data had been provided to support this claim. The Community Association had written again, challenging the inconsistency of this when this route is offered as an emergency alternative when the Brodick/Ardrossan route is closed. They had also pointed out that this ferry sails safely in bad summer weather. Restrictions due to carrying fuel on random crossings further exacerbated capacity on this route. It had been proposed that fuel deliveries could be scheduled on set days, since the island storage capacity readily permitted this.
The current state of our lifeline ferry service shows it is not fit for purpose in terms of reliability, resilience and infrastructure. The Arran Ferry Action Group is a new and fully representative lobbying group, set up to represent Arran interests in demanding service improvements and accountability in future investment decisions.