When I read the CMAL press release yesterday about port funding I couldn't decide at first wether this was good news or bad although I now think it's the latter. CMAL announced in their press release that funding has been awarded for Kennacraig and Port Ellen. When you read the promising headline you might start to think that, whatever the outcome of the ferry review, the ship of money has arrived with enough pennies to modify the linkspan at Port Ellen so that the new Islay Ferry, MV Finlaggan, will be able to dock there. Wrong! Despite the protest of Lord George Robertson the expected ship of money turned out to be a canoe with a few pennies to make some necessary repairs and adjustments here and there. So what will happen with the rewarded funds? Kennacraig will be modified to welcome the new Islay Ferry and Port Ellen will be modified to keep on welcoming the existing ferry. No news here, or should I say no change here? What should one say?
CMAL said: "Business cases for infrastructure improvements to Port Ellen and Kennacraig were presented to The Scottish Government in March 2009 with a variety of options recommended as minimum and maximum work plans. Â£3.4M is now being made available for CMAL to rebuild the pier and carry out fendering works at Port Ellen. CMAL is already carrying out a refurbishment of the existing linkspan at Port Ellen, which began on February 15th, comprising of steelwork repairs, raising the level of the linkspan, as well as an extensive mechanical overhaul and lifting rope replacement along with painting." To me this sounds as regular maintenance which had to be carried out anyway. Continue reading.....
The press release also states that: "Subject to this and some minor modifications, the new Â£24.5M Islay ferry, MV Finlaggan, will be able to use the existing pier at Kennacraig when she comes into service next Spring and will serve Port Askaig. One of the existing vessels will continue to serve Port Ellen." Funny enough the most interesting information was not found in the press release but in the side notes: "The full redevelopment of Port Ellen and Kennacraig was outlined in the business cases at a cost of Â£16M and Â£17.8M respectively and cannot be undertaken at this time due to the current financial climate and pressure on public funds. The new Islay ferry, MV Finlaggan, will be accommodated at Kennacraig and will serve Port Askaig." Now this is news to me and the way I read it is that the major investment of Â£16M, necessary to see the MV Finlaggan dock at Port Ellen, is likely to be axed.
As usual politicians have another way of explaining why they didn't reward the full investment. Stewart Stevenson, Transport Minister, said: â€œThis considerable investment will ensure services to Port Ellen are safeguarded at a time of great economic pressure when difficult spending decisions are having to be made. The Scottish Government is demonstrating its commitment to the people of Islay by providing these funds which, supported by investments by CMAL, will allow the new Â£24.5M Islay ferry to use the existing pier at Kennacraig when she comes into service and maintain lifeline services to Islay's two ports." I seriously raised my eyebrows when I read this. What the goverment is trying to say, at least how I interpret it, is that they are spending millions on a new ferry and now they give themselves a compliment that this new ferry will be able to actually dock at Kennacraig after more public money is spent, yeah well done government! Apparently they needed a genius to figure this one out! But they are not there yet. Another Â£0.5M has to be spent at Port Askaig before the new ferry will be able to dock there as well.
Now you might think that I am pessimistic about the outcome and perhaps you are right. So far however the signs are not good for Port Ellen, and I am very curious to find out what the outcome of the ferry review will bring. This will likely shed a new light on the possible future ferry routes for and port developments on Islay. The CMAL ports and harbours team with CalMac Ferries Ltd (CFL) are planning to hold public meetings in Port Ellen week commencing 5th April to update local people and businesses on their plans for the future. More details and confirmation of the dates of these meetings will be published shortly. I'm not sure if a draft from the ferry review will be presented there but keep an eye out on the CMAL website, the Ileach newspaper or this blog for more information.