By Sally Campbell, 28th February 2022
Let’s start at the beginning:
I attended the Arran Ferry Committee AGM on 8 June 2015. I had previously attended the public meeting with CalMac, part of their community consultations before tendering, so more a ticking the “community consultation” box rather than actually progressing the service. Many of the dissatisfactions expressed at that earlier meeting were mirrored at the Arran Ferry Committee AGM.
Here are my written general observations on that AFC AGM. This is now nearly 7 years ago:
1. General dissatisfaction
A real sense that the variable reliability of the ferry service has not been pursued to the highest level including Transport Scotland.
The port of refuge not resolved. Just excuses. What have been the Committee’s declared long term strategic plans for the Arran ferry? How have these been monitored by the committee over the past say three years? How successful has this committee been in reaching its aims?
General dissatisfaction about getting the right ferry and terminal for Arran. There is a great deal of concern over both new ferries and the new terminal. Many disliked the design of the terminal; particularly access for pedestrian passengers, and we were told by CMAL there had been consultations with the ferry committee. Presumably the first consultation was with the ferry committee. By the time the general public saw the design, at public meetings, it was pretty well set in concrete. Some of the concern over those decisions by CMAL is undoubtedly giving rise to the dissatisfaction, with some feeling, true or not, that the ferry committee is mostly interested in good deals for hauliers, RET to increase tourism, and good relations for the bigger businesses on Arran with CalMac, CMAL and indeed Transport Scotland.
2. Revisiting the Constitution and procedures
Clearly the community must have trust in the Arran Ferry Committee, so widening the participation to include other sectors, such as NHS, more independent travellers, voluntary groups, and small businesses. The committee meetings must be inclusive and open to the public. Funding for expenses needs to be rethought and the constitution revisited and changed.
Three fundamental problems have arisen with the present Committee set up, as indicated by the comments from the floor at the AGM:
There is a lack of Trust that the committee works for everyone. There appeared to be defensiveness of ferry committee members. Many residents would not agree that we have the best CalMac service at the present time. Wearing “several hats” on the ferry committee may not be the best way to get results for everyone.
3. Issues with CMAL, CalMac, Transport Scotland and ultimately with the Scottish Government
How well is RET working for the whole of Arran, not just some sectors? It was clearly introduced without enough preplanning in place. What are the unintended consequences of RET? In strategic terms how will RET affect the turnover of remaining retail businesses on the island, especially food, petrol, household goods and building supplies? Already there appears to be data suggesting RET is in the longer term less good for permanent island residents. Is research being done to look at these unintended consequences?
Is anyone on the committee monitoring RET? The difficulties for example of getting on early ferries for appointments etc. How are “standby” slots working? I would certainly be interested in a tally of figures for commercial vehicles, cars, campervans, bicycles, various types of passengers for various sailings through the summer and winter seasons. Both for Brodick /Ardrossan and Lochranza/Claonaig services. These need to be collected and shared with the island.
The state of CMAL and CalMac. Many ships in the fleet are coming to the end of their CMAL/CalMac lives. It also does seem as if maintenance of ports, such as Brodick, has been neglected over recent years to save money, resulting now in major expenditure. Has this maintenance issue been vigorously pursued by the ferry committee over past years?
RET is said to be costing £2M in subsidies. Is this value for money or just filling up boats to produce the same income for CalMac? £100M is quoted as likely to be spent on Arran by 2017/2018 with new ferry terminal etc and new ferry. Are these capital expenditures value for money when Ardrossan is so often unsuitable to support a reliable service? What is the committee’s opinion on these important areas and strategies for dialogue with the major suppliers of Arran ferries?
When is the new booking system coming on line, and an efficient telephone information service available without holding for several minutes? Is the committee pushing for these improvements or just hoping they will emerge? CalMac needs to be kept on its toes. How often are there meetings with the three bodies involved? There appears to be great dividing walls between each of them, each blaming the other, so how does the committee deal with that ineffectiveness? Has Martin Dorchester, Managing Director of Caledonian MacBrayne, visited here to discuss Port of Refuge difficulties and to be questioned on resolving these issues?
Ferry timetables: it seems strange that on the busy summer days involving the weekend, one ferry is off to Campbeltown. How was this decided? Winter timetables: Is the ferry committee involved in discussions of the needs of the island? Will the Lochranza ferry travel more than once a day for more than a few passengers?
There are many questions about our ferry services that the public wish to be answered, so it must be a purpose of the Arran Ferry Committee that there are regular reports in the public domain about what is happening and getting feedback from ferry users. Further, there needs to be a debate on the island as to the purpose, structure and vision of the committee and how communication can be effectively achieved following every meeting, sharing decisions made, and any outcomes with CMAL, CalMac, Transport Scotland and ultimately of course, with the politicians at Holyrood.
What happened? Nothing
THE CONTINUING SAGA 3 YEARS LATER 2018:
The next public Meeting on Ferry Services was a “consultation” on 23 October 2018 in Brodick Hall regarding development of Ardrossan. The new Brodick terminal had been built at the vast cost of £30M+ and already there was serious dissatisfaction with it. The evening had a series of story boards showing Ardrossan development and a lot of public officials standing around, mostly talking to one another. No group meeting so everyone could ask serious question to these officials, just a list to put comments and the usual yellow post it notes. Purely a tick box exercise, we so often see now, pseudo democracy. Many people leaving the meeting were very unhappy, so, the following day I wrote to Richard Hadfield of Transport Scotland about the meeting and proposals.
24 October 2018
Dear Mr Hadfield
I was pleased to meet you and see Transport Scotland at the “consultation” in Brodick Hall last evening. Too frequently the islanders see only CMAL, or CalMac or NAC, or a combination of all three, so those who really need to understand the frustration on Arran, that is Transport Scotland, are absent. The island community is presented with a fait accompli, even if we are told it is just at consultation stage. Since Transport Scotland is clearly a major contributor of finance to the project, it is important that the department understands the process over the last few years that has resulted in severe disillusion on Arran and other island communities about the ferry services, resilience, lifeline and here particularly the infrastructure being imposed on residents of Arran.
Historically, the boarding of the ferry in Brodick was a quick and simple affair. We watched the ferry coming in, outside, in the rain or sun, met islander friends by chance and chatted whilst waiting. We waved to friends and family arriving or when departing, able to assist with their bags until the last moment at the ramp. Lack of maintenance of the pier etc was the reason given for the monstrous expenditure of tax payers’ money for the new pier and terminal. It started as £18m, rose to £22M and finally cost £30M. The question should be asked – who is being held accountable for such an overspend? At public consultations on Arran before building started, it was clearly the wish of the islanders not to have a monstrous two (in reality 3) storey terminal building, with difficult access, restricting the waiting area to travelling passengers only, long 200m walk to the ferry loading point, 30 steep stairs to access departure “holding” space or to ground floor on arrival. We did get one small concession, 2 lifts rather than one! Nothing else changed except for faux sandstone cladding to help the terminal fit in with Arran architecture, clearly unsuccessful. As a foot passenger, I can no longer turn up and board the ferry in 10 minutes: it takes longer, and we are told we have to be on the ferry 10 minutes before departure, so getting upstairs, a holding pen, five minute walk, means the casual and easy approach has gone. We are not an airport, but as someone said last night, this is worse than that.
The reality of the new system is that it takes much longer to offload passengers, since the exit ramp lets only one passenger off at the time, so for less agile individuals there is a much longer wait standing in the mass on the boat to get off, then a long walk, rising anxiety that the bus may leave before they reach the exit door etc. Many now believe they can only go to the mainland if they take a car; so much for reducing the carbon footprint.
So, here we go again. Already it was clear from last night’s story boards, a great deal of money is about to be spent so once again. I have no doubt it is “too late” for much change to suit passengers, especially those on foot. Before this all started did no one think to ask Arran what their vision might be regarding what is required and how had the new pier and terminal worked for the island? Working around the information Boards, it is not until board 7 or 8 that lifeline ferry service is even mentioned. It appeared to many of us that this development is all about regeneration of Ardrossan, rather than the need to provide a resilient, all-weather departure point for a lifeline ferry. Arran is just another means of gaining finance for regeneration. Like many others, I realise the three towns are in a pretty desperate state and clearly need government help, but the key to Arran’s sense of inclusion, is a lifeline ferry that meets the needs of its full-time residents. This is what the ferry is all about!
So, as I pointed out to you last evening, there is no need for another huge “copycat” terminal building, like Brodick’s or Oban’s with all the difficulties for those less agile, carrying luggage, pushchairs etc. There is no need for retail space, just some toilets and a space to wait, possibly a coffee cabin. If it is considered too steep a ramp for foot passengers devise and utilise technology such as a moving walkway. Look at NAC stats on the age profile of Arran full-time residents, and make a list as to why the resilient, life-line ferry must be a priority. The age of the CMAL fleet is very worrying, as we have experienced breakdowns with increasing frequency and resilience and reliability is getting worse. Why is investment so late in providing additional ferries across the network is the question being asked? Hardly the moment to “invent” the next development in ferry design, but really a time to use tried and tested design.
1. Learn, by asking Arran residents, about the mistakes of the terminal in Brodick, and do not repeat at vast expense in Ardrossan. We are sadly stuck with a badly overdesigned, inconvenient terminal which clearly requires far more staff to operate.
How on earth CMAL has picked up an award for the extensive upgrade of Brodick Ferry Terminal as UK Port Infrastructure Project of the Year 2018 is a source of contempt and a laughing stock on Arran.
The friendly arrival and departure systems have been superseded by the opposite: clumsy, bleak, individuals separated from family long before departure, no ability to see who is arriving until they exit the terminal building.
2. What is needed is a single-story terminal at Ardrossan, if indeed it needs to be rebuilt at all. Consider innovative technological solutions for ramp access for foot passengers if necessary. It does seem as if the original upgrading intention at Ardrossan to improve ferry access to the harbour and docking in inclement weather has been lost.
3. Study the NAC figures on Arran residents, what their needs are in a lifeline ferry service. If that concept is disappearing under economics, economics, economics, tell the islanders their needs are secondary. Since the introduction of RET, Arran has seen carryings increase by almost 16%, with 205,000 cars shipped during 2017.The unintended consequences are severe for the island infrastructure and the lifeline services for individuals, families and businesses, including the Co-op, our main food supplier.
4. Whatever is decided we need a system that recognises that full-time residents need a waitlist system that works for car journeys; that flexibility has been lost. Tourists book months in advance. In contrast, residents cannot tell until near the time that they have a hospital appointment, need for shopping, family emergency or funeral to attend. RET means it is increasingly difficult to get a space for a car. This system must be redesigned. Whilst RET was a political decision, it is producing unintended consequences on Arran, goods and services. Before any development at Ardrossan, Transport Scotland needs to engage in an in-depth study with the Community Council, Elderly Forum and other groups on Arran, concerned about the future viability of full-time residency on Arran, and not just consulting with Arran Economic Forum, and Ferry Committee (both of which are mostly transport and commercial companies). From that study a comprehensive strategy could then emerge, properly costed to meet the resilience, reliability and lifeline ferry needs of Arran with any benefit to Ardrossan as a town being entirely secondary.
5. That CalMac has won the “Best Ferry Operator of the Year at 2018 National Transport Awards” is another joke on Arran at this time. It adds insult to injury after a summer of disruption, ferry unserviceability and increasing technical problems as a reason for cancelled sailings!
Dr Sally Campbell
NEXT STEPS 2018
As a result of writing the above letter and the reply from Caroline Connelly on 15 November, I wrote on 28 November 2018 to Arran Community Council Chair requesting the Council call an island public meeting on the issues raised by the storyboards. I concluded the letter with the words:
“Because my letters about the ferry terminal have been in The Banner, several people have asked me to “do something”. So this is my effort!”
My letter received a response in January 2019 and no meeting has ever been held by ACC for the public concerns over the ferry provision and Ardrossan Harbour development.
THE LATEST PLANS RELEASED February 2022
So, again the new terminal at vast cost £15M at present, and no doubt doubling by completion; where is sense and democracy in this dreadful development? It is over designed, no architectural merit and already there can be seen the flaws for foot passengers. I can already sense anxious foot passengers’ fears of missing connecting trains, or falling on the steep stairs. Or the PAS not working so huge delay getting off the boat via the car deck and missing the train. Please read the letter to Richard Hadfield again…it covers everything about this “new” development, more a recycled Brodick. Cost: The project at its current stage of development is estimated to cost between £35-£40million. Who exactly is footing this bill- taxpayers, passengers, Peel Ports?
My question to us all is what is happening to our Democracy, to real consultations? Who is standing up for islanders? Shouting loudly?