Arran Ferry Action Group has been in existence for approaching 2 years. Over this time we have asked many questions, received some answers, held numerous meetings with those involved in running our ferry service, and read many documents with a view to always pushing for practical and realistic improvements to our lifeline ferry service.
We wanted to be able to share some of this information in the form of a Q & A summary based on questions we regularly receive, and also highlight those areas that we are still awaiting more answers and details.
These are separated into various subject areas to allow clarity in what are numerous complex and deeply inter-related issues.
Our Current Service, Ardrossan Harbour Upgrade, Service while Ardrossan Arran Berth is Closed, and of course our New Vessel.
Our Current Service
What's going on with the infrastructure in Ardrossan?
Over the last few months, Ardrossan has suffered a number of infrastructure failures from the linkspan, to the gangway, and more recently to the fenders and the navigation lights.
All of these have caused significant disruption to our lifeline service.
The principal port infrastructure at Ardrossan is approaching operational life expiry and is intended to be replaced as part of the Ardrossan Harbour Redevelopment Project.
Peel Ports are responsible for the maintenance of the linkspan and berth as the Port Owner.
Arran Ferry Action Group believe there is a general reluctance on behalf of Peel Ports to spend any more than the minimum required on maintenance of the Arran Berth, given the imminent replacement project.
Why can't the boat remain in the berth in Ardrossan overnight in poor weather?
In late September 2020 a section of fendering was damaged on the Arran berth. We understand that MV Caledonian Isles consequently is not able to lie safely alongside overnight in conditions that will generate any significant swell inside the harbour. There are also existing issues with the length of the berth, the mooring arrangements, and the relative overhang of the vessel at the stern.
We are led to believe that this fendering issue is still not fully resolved as of Spring 2021, despite assurances to the contrary.
The knock-on effect of this is that the vessel will berth overnight in Brodick and the key 0700 Ardrossan-Brodick sailing is cancelled, with all of the consequent disruption to deliveries, key workers, and contractors.
Why can't the boat use the Irish Berth most of the time?
The Irish berth is currently only a viable berth in a very limited and restricted range of operating conditions, which are generally light conditions or in easterly winds.
In the prevailing Southwesterly to Northwesterly winds, it is not a preferred berth due to the vessel being blown off the berth and the restricted manoeuvring space available.
That is the reason why the vessels cannot easily revert to the Irish berth during the periods of infrastructure related disruption, such as in Autumn/Winter 2020.
The Irish Berth is clearly not a viable back up option in the generally prevailing conditions.
Why can't the boat divert to Gourock?
The existing linkspan at Gourock was life-expired and deemed unfit for vehicle traffic for the last 18 months or more.
A Life Extension Project is currently underway to replace the linkspan deck and other related structural repairs to the supporting structures to return it to full vehicular use.
Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) are running this project at a cost of around £2 million. Work started in October 2020 with a planned completion in late December 2020. The new linkspan is now in position and commissioning and finishing work is underway, after delays with unforeseen structural issues. However, it is still not complete as we write in early March 2021, with the fendering on the berth requiring some adjustments prior to being ready for service.
Arran Ferry Action Group welcome this Life Extension Project as a vital Port of Refuge for the Arran service in weather conditions when Ardrossan may be closed.
However, we are yet to receive assurances that diverting to Gourock will form part of the standard contingency plans to maintain our lifeline service.
Why can't the boat just divert to Troon?
Given Gourock has been out of action for much of the last two years, the Arran service currently has no alternative mainland port.
On the occasions that Ardrossan is closed due to weather or technical failure, the island needs a viable operational contingency mainland port.
Troon East Pier is a possible option and has been used on previous limited and exceptional occasions.
Diverting to Troon does bring a number of complications. There are no permanent port staff, no facilities for passengers, and no links to onward travel connections. We also understand that there is a requirement for pilotage into Troon which adds additional possibility for delays.
Arran Ferry Action Group contend that these are logistical issues that can be practically overcome with detailed operational contingency planning.
The berth is also not ideally suited for regular use by our vessels due to the layout of the dolphin fenders, the lack of pier deck, and the lack of a passenger gangway.
We understand the proposed upgrades to Troon East Pier will address these matters in due course.
Ardrossan Harbour Upgrade
When is Ardrossan being upgraded?
The redevelopment project timetable appears to be slipping significantly and the project was originally scheduled to be completed by now.
Our latest working assumption from various sources is that the works may start at Ardrossan in Autumn 2022. Works are scheduled to take 18-21 months, meaning completion in early 2024.
The tender process to appoint a principal contractor has not happened yet and there is still considerable uncertainty regarding the exact programme of works.
It is believed that if the legal requirements are not confirmed and concluded before this parliament closes for the election from late March, this will in all probability mean some further delay to the project. We watch with interest...
What is proposed?
In very basic terms, the entire Arran Berth and linkspan will be completely re-aligned to a more North-South orientation, to allow a longer berth and increase the available manoeuvring space on approach to the berth.
A new terminal building will be built as part of a general modernising of the land-side infrastructure. There are currently very few details of this aspect of the project, which is believed to still be in early design stages. This land-side aspect of the Upgrade is being run by North Ayrshire Council.
More information about the plans can be found by clicking here
Will it make a difference?
According to the modelling and manoeuvring simulations, the redevelopment project allows a general increase in reliability of Ardrossan Harbour, with a reasonable reduction in periods the Harbour would be unusable.
The increase in manoeuvring space and consequent reduction of the turn required on entry and exit to the berth will mean an increase in the operating wind range from the current level up to 40 knots in prevailing wind directions and generally higher operational limits in most wind directions, including Easterly.
Realigning the berth allows a longer berth for both the MV Caledonian Isles and the new vessel, MV Glen Sannox. This should give benefits for reliable and safe overnight berthing in conditions that currently cause problems, with the vessel fully supported on the berth with a more optimised mooring arrangement.
There will be a slightly increased exposure to the West or North West wind direction, due to the vessel being a little more beam-on to the weather.
No significant change is expected to the swell inside the harbour at the berth, although some possible increased standing wave effect could be seen in North Westerly swell. The vessel is expected to be less affected by the South Westerly swell coming into the harbour entrance due to the berth being a little further into the harbour than at present, again improving the overnight berthing reliability.
The CalMac Operators Assessment suggests a drop in disruption rates from 10% to 2% in Summer, and from 31% to 14% in Winter.
It must be considered however that without an enormous project to redevelop the entire harbour and breakwaters, Ardrossan will always be vulnerable to some weather-related disruption, particularly with a large swell from the Southwest.
The Proof of Concept Document can be read by clicking here
How much will it cost?
Budget estimates are currently proposing a total cost of £35-40 million pounds, with the significant investment from Transport Scotland, and contributions from North Ayrshire Council and Peel Ports among others. This has apparently grown from a reported £30-35 million over the last 12 months. We do not know if this funding has been officially committed, or the exact breakdown of funding share, and can only be finalised on completion of the tender process and appointment of contractors.
When will it be completed?
The scope of works suggests a programme of up to 18-21 months of work. The schedule for this project has slipped considerably and is still at risk of further slippage. We currently understand this work is expected to commence in Q3 2022 with a completion by Q2 2024.
Timetable will be confirmed by the Ardrossan Task Force on appointment of a principal contractor.
Some structural works are also listed to improve the Irish Berth infrastructure, understood to relate to the suspended concrete deck of the pier. This is scheduled to take place before the closure of the Arran Berth and no timeline has been published yet, but it is anticipated to be carried out in 2021.
Service while Ardrossan Arran Berth is Closed
What is the plan for the period the Arran berth is closed?
The Transport Scotland operational plan from January 2020 was that the service will operate from the Irish Berth for the duration of the works.
This default proposal was considered to be very unlikely to deliver a reliable service, particularly when one factors in the delay to the project and the possible arrival of the new vessel before completion.
The Irish berth can only reliably operate with the current vessels in a very restricted operational range of light conditions or easterly winds. This limited operational range will be further restricted for the MV Glen Sannox when this eventually enters service.
Another proposal was to divert to Troon 'as-and-when' the Irish berth is not useable with 12 hours' notice.
This proposal was a nonsensical solution in our view, with ad-hoc short notice changes to which port the boat is sailing to or from, the lack of connectivity, and the knock on effect on the timetable causing even more disruption.
Arran Ferry Action Group and others argued that a temporary full relocation of the service to Troon for the duration of this period will offer a better solution. To some extent this is the 'least worst' option. It will mean a reduced service frequency and a longer passage time which will have a negative effect. However, we believe this will be more than offset by the greater general reliability of the service, and allow the work at Ardrossan to progress safely and unimpeded by regular sailings.
On 18th February 2021, Transport Scotland announced a U-turn on this original operating plan and confirmed that the service will relocate to Troon for the period of the works for up to two years.
Arran Ferry Action Group welcome this change. However, it is absolutely imperative that this change must be accompanied with properly implemented plans for temporary passenger facilities, onward travel logistics such as shuttle busses to rail stations and possibly to Ardrossan, along with suitable parking and drop off areas.
Arran Ferry Action Group will continue to push these vitally important connectivity matters.
What's happening with Troon?
It is understood to be a requirement to operate from Troon that substantial works are carried out on the East Pier to allow regular operation by the current and future vessels.
The addition of more mooring dolphins and fenders and a concrete deck along the open pier structure for passenger gangway access is understood to be required. These are expected to take approximately 6 months to complete.
It is believed Transport Scotland and Associated British Ports are funding these works.
No timeline has been published for these works after planning permission was granted last summer. However, it is clear that this work must be completed before the work at Ardrossan can commence. It is expected therefore that this will be carried out in 2021.
You can read more detail on the plans for Troon by clicking here
MV Glen Sannox
What's the situation with the new ferry?
Much has been written about the fiasco of the procurement of the new Glen Sannox at Fergusons Marine and there is simply not enough time to pick over the bones of this in detail. Whether you think the design is right or wrong, or if you think it should have been awarded to other yards, the process has been disastrous.
The Scottish Parliament Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee Inquiry Report of December 2020 simply concludes that it has been a 'catastrophic failure'.
The project was clearly out of control within months of the work starting, with blame apportioned to both sides of the divide of Ferguson Marine as contractor and Caledonian Maritime Assets as client, resulting in the total collapse of the working relationship.
Costs spiralled to upward of double the original contract price of £97 million for the two sister ships, and resulted in the eventual collapse and nationalisation of the yard in 2019, and the consequent additional loss of £45 million in government loans.
Hull 801 Glen Sannox is now scheduled for delivery in Q2 2022, some 4 years late, at an officially published estimated cost of at least £85 million pounds for the one vessel alone. We all know that the true final cost will be significantly higher.
You can read the full Scottish Parliament REC Committee Inquiry Report by clicking here
When might we see the vessel in service?
The last updated delivery schedule as of August 2020 for Hull 801 Glen Sannox was stated as April to June 2022. This was a 6 month delay from the 2019 update.
An update on progress and delivery is expected by the end of March 2021, however it is very probable that this timeline - and consequently the total budget - has slipped with the continuing impact of Coronavirus on the yard, among other difficulties.
Ferguson Marine are currently recruiting for a significant workforce expansion to push ahead on this project and attempt to hold the proposed delivery schedule, which is now officially deemed as 'achievable'.
Mid-Late 2022 delivery for 801 Glen Sannox would now seem to be a more realistic position, pending this schedule update. This does mean that the vessel could still enter service before the works at Ardrossan commence, highlighting the chaotic global planning of these closely inter-related projects.
The original progress update report from December 2019 can be read by clicking here
The most recent progress update report from August 2020 can be read by clicking here
Will it fit in Ardrossan?
The new vessel could fit into the berth at Ardrossan as it is now, but would likely have a more restricted range of operational wind limits than the other vessels, principally due to increased size.
The proposed re-alignment will result in a longer berth with more manoeuvring space, and simulations show the vessel being able to operate in a wind range of up to 40 knots on the principal Arran Berth.
It is believed the new vessel would have an even more restricted operational window at the Irish Berth than the current vessels, with the narrow gap between the Winton and Montgomery piers being outwith the safe berthing margins as an additional issue.
However, according to the CalMac Operators Assessment, operations on the new Arran berth have been successfully simulated in Easterlies up to 30 knots, which would reduce the requirement to divert to the Irish Berth.
This increased operating range may be almost irrelevant with the well-known problems at Brodick in Easterly wind and swell, raising further long-term questions about the reliable operation of the lifeline service in these wind conditions.
Will it fit in Troon?
It is understood the berthing arrangements at Troon are not currently optimised for reliable bow-in operations for either of our principal vessels. After the modifications are made at Troon, MV Glen Sannox and our other vessels could operate from Troon reliably.
Will it fit in Gourock?
No. The new vessel will not fit the current berth at Gourock.
It is suggested that Troon will be the designated Port of Refuge for the Arran service in future.
The future redevelopment at Gourock will take MV Glen Sannox into account for the design of the new infrastructure. The update of Gourock is currently scheduled to take place in 2025.
Arran Ferry Action Group have endeavoured to work constructively with all parties to improve our lifeline service. We have seen major infrastructure projects delivered or still under development covering the three major elements of the ferry service – Brodick, the new vessel and Ardrossan.
As it stands today we have a pier in Brodick that is hopelessly compromised in anything more than moderate easterly winds, a vastly delayed and over budget ferry under construction that is still at least 18 months away, and a mainland port with ageing infrastructure that will not be updated until 2024. Until that time, the delayed new ferry cannot reliably use Ardrossan and cannot use the port of refuge in Gourock until at least 2025.
It is remarkable that each of these major projects appears to have been carried out in isolation of one another, with no clear overall project timetable, and appear to overlap in a particularly disjointed way that will result in years of disruption for the 'lifeline' Arran ferry service.
It is particularly hard to understand how the directly related projects of delivering the new ferry and upgrading Ardrossan could be so mis-aligned in delivery schedule. In one sense it is fortunate that the Glen Sannox was not completed on time as it would struggle to operate in Ardrossan or Troon, and would not fit in Gourock!
Even if everything goes to plan - and there are still some significant risks involved - it will be at least early 2024 before the residents of Arran will see any measurable improvement in their lifeline ferry service. Arran Ferry Action Group will continue to push for real and practical improvements, however, we need to be realistic and prepare for another few years of service disruption.
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.