Another Pier of Broken Dreams?

The Ileach first revealed that the the new MV Finlaggan would not fit Port Ellen pier in its issue dated 28th February 2009. CMAL subsequently commissioned a ‘Business Case’ which called for a new pier development at Port Ellen costing around £16million which was presented to the Scottish ministers and rejected on cost grounds. CMAL then surprised everyone by saying that the Business Case was in fact wrong and that a new pier could be built at Port Ellen for its own estimate of £4-5 million. That proposal has been put out to tender, but will only be built if the tenders come in within budget. If everything goes absolutely swimmingly, then Port Ellen could be available to the Finlaggan from early in 2012.

There are however, an extraordinary number of pitfalls and potential problems which could delay this process for a very long time, quite apart from the small detail of money. First among these is the fact that one of the fundamental problems at Port Ellen relate to car parking and freight marshalling - which is currently inadequate. The big advantage of the proposals attached to the Business Case was that it addressed this issue. The new ferry has an increased capacity - it can carry 18 more cars than the current ships. This means that at peak sailings there will be an additional eighteen cars waiting to board at Port Ellen. Where these eighteen cars are going to be put is unclear. Continue reading.....

The Ileach first revealed that the MV Finlaggan would not fit Port Askaig either in our issue dated 14th March 2009. During the £14 million refurbishment of the port, a new linkspan was installed but, incredibly, it does not interface to the new vessel. The MV Finlaggan has a beam of 16.4 metres, whereas the MV Hebridean Isles has a beam of 15.8 metres and the MV Isle of Arran a beam of 16.2 metres. We understand that the rear loading ramp of the Finlaggan is wider than those of the existing ships which exacerbates the problem. Even if the Finlaggan’s ramp can be lowered onto the linkspan, it will be a close run thing, and closer to the edge of that linkspan than the regulations allow.

We have had repeated assurances however that this problem can be overcome, both from the Transport Minister and from Argyll and Bute Council, but no details have been released as to how this is going to be achieved. We have been told that ‘very minor modifications’ will be required, and Catriona Bell, who sent a letter to a councillor, informs us that the Council even has a costing. A remarkably accurate costing of £96,000. Not £95,000, or even £100,000, but £96,000. This is a truly extraordinary figure (loose change in marine engineering terms). Yet in the same breath, the Council apparently says that it has not yet completed the design work. So we have a costing of £96,000, and no design?

Argyll and Bute Council do not have a great record when it comes to the strategic planning of piers either. Marine engineering works are notoriously difficult to bring in on-budget, but Argyll and Bute has spent large sums of money on at least three piers which are now hardly used at all - with no realistic prospect of that changing.

This story was published with kind permission of the Ileach local newspaper.

Tag: port askaig port ellen pier ferry council