From everything I heard and read about the new Islay Ferry so far it looks like this is only the tip of the iceberg and there will have to flow a lot of wather through the Sound of Islay before the new ferry docks at Port Ellen, if ever. Let me recapitulate the events so far:
Port Ellen - Now it's Â£11.3 million minimum to make new ferry fit.
Port Askaig - new Â£14 million port requires linkspan to be 'widened' to accommodate new vessel.
Kennacraig - Sunken barge will have to be removed to enable new vessel to berth to existing pier. Two previous attempts to remove it have failed.
CMAL - refuse to publish their 'Business Case' justifying the redevelopment of Port Ellen to Scottish Ministers, citing 'commercial confidentiality'.
Short 'Executive Summary' of Business case only - to be published on website.
MSP presents Parliamentary Questions to Scottish Government.
Can the situation at Port Askaig really be as bad as this photograph suggests?
This photograph appears to show why the new linkspan at Port Askaig will not accept the new Islay ferry which has a wider beam than our existing ferries. While the linkspan appears to be of adequate width, it would appear to be in the wrong place. If you look at where the ferry's ramp door is in relation to the structure, there is a large portion of the linkspan being unused. but a ferry with a wider beam will not fit. Continue reading....The public meeting/presentation held at the Ramsay Hall Port Ellen has confirmed that the new Islay ferry due for delivery in March 2011 will require a minimum of Â£11.3 million spent on port infrastructure in Port Ellen to enable the vessel to dock. CMAL are essentially proposing a two phase redevelopment of the port, the first to provide the minimum berthing requirements at a cost of Â£11.3 million, the second to provide extended car parking and a terminal building. If the entire project was to be undertaken in a single phase then the cost would be Â£17.8 million, but if it was undertaken as two phases then the costs would rise to around Â£20 million. No funding has yet been identified for this work and no provision has been made within the current spending review.
CMAL declined to comment on the precise details of the 'minor modifications' that will be required at Port Askaig as they said that this is a matter for Argyll and Bute Council and CalMac Ferries Ltd, who operate the ferry service. The Ileach understands however that the new ferry will not fit the new linkspan which will now have to be 'widened'.
This linkspan needs "minor modifications", I think it needs replacement
The new ferry will be able to interface to the current pier infrastructure at Kennacraig however to enable this to happen a substantial sunken barge that lies completely submerged in the area immediately south of the existing pier will have to be removed. Two previous attempts to remove the barge have not been successful owing to the fact that cutting it up underwater has proved difficult because it is filled with concrete. Officials are confident however that a way will be found to effect the removal.
Kennacraig Ferry Terminal
CMAL are also proposing to effect the redevelopment of Kennacraig in two phases, phase one upgrading the berthing infrastructure and the causeway and phase two providing improved carparking, freight marshalling and a terminal building. Phase one is costed at Â£11.7 million whereas the entire project would cost Â£17.8 million.
The combined cost of effecting both Port Ellen and Kennacraig would however rise to approximately Â£38 million if the projects were effected in two phases. CMAL are still not prepared to publish the 'Business Case' that they have prepared with the assistance of a public consultation, to support the need for the redevelopment of Port Ellen, saying that it contains information that would jeopardise the 'commercial confidentiality' of the operating company CalMac Ferries Ltd. The full Business Case is a substantial document. They will instead publish a short 'Executive Summary' of the Business Case on the web. Critics point out however that a short summary is unlikely to offer a sufficiently convincing case for the maintenance of two ports of entry to Islay at a point when financial controls on the capital budget are likely to be very stringent.
Meetings with CMAL in November 2008 had indicated that the redevelopments of Port Ellen and Kennacraig would have to be consecutive rather than simultaneous. This is apparently no longer the case as the economic downturn means that it is conceivable that both could be undertaken at the same time as the workload of contractors has lightened significantly. CMAL maintain that it is still possible for the first phase of the redevelopments at both ports to be completed before the deployment of the new ferry in March 20011, but described the timescale as 'tight'.
The CMAL Board has approved funds for a complete design programme to be undertaken for both Port Ellen and Kennacraig at a cost of approximately Â£1 million. There are however a significant number of administrative hurdles to clear prior to any developments actually starting. The design process would have to be completed, funding would have to be agreed, tenders issued to contractors and a Harbour Revision Order obtained before any work could begin. The average time for a Harbour Revision Order is apparently around 18 months, although this can be as little as a year if no significant objections are raised.
Carl Reavey, the editor of the Ileach and the driving force behind the excellent articles about the new Islay ferry and subsequent ports redevelopments writes in an editorial note "I really hope I am wrong, but: Things do not look good. I am confident that CMAL management are very competent and know exactly what they are doing. I am sure therefore that the fact that the new ferry will not fit Port Ellen is not some unfortunate accident, but a deliberate policy to force it to operate from Port Askaig only. I am concerned therefore, that Port Ellen, the village that has a long and proud history of serving MacBraynes as a ferry port, is going to be allowed to wither on the vine as a matter of deliberate policy.
The claim that the refurbishment of Port Ellen could be completed prior to the delivery of the new ferry in March 2011 is a fantasy. I simply do not believe this is possible. That will be the first nail in the coffin because that will surely mean that the 'core' timetable will move to Port Askaig with the new vessel. The new ship will leave Kennacraig at 07:00am for Port Askaig, not Port Ellen, as will the 18.00 departure. I believe that Port Ellen will be served, as now, by the, now very elderly 'Hebridean Isles' or the 'Isle of Arran' leaving Kennacraig at 09.45 and sitting at the port until 18.00hrs.
The two Islay ferries at Port Ellen
I believe that Kennacraig will be rebuilt 'first'. The CMAL website reporting on the consultation currently states: 'Redevelop Kennacraig first; A number of consultees suggested that any potential redevelopment of Kennacraig should commence ahead of any potential redevelopment of Port Ellen terminal. It was noted that the potential phasing options for any future development at both Kennacraig and Port Ellen will be subject to a separate detailed study and report. Common reasons put forward to support this suggestion include; the availability of Port Askaig as an alternative to Port Ellen, the apparent existence of fewer, while still significant, issues at Kennacraig compared to Port Ellen; the presumed existence of fewer planning and development issues at Kennacraig due to the relatively remote secluded location, compared to the village location of Port Ellen terminal.'
So I believe that Kennacraig will be built 'first', while the new ferry runs to Port Askaig. We have already been told however, that Port Ellen pier is approaching the end of its working life, and it would surprise nobody if the Health and Safety Executive decide, round about 2013, that the use of the pier as a ferry terminal can no longer be sanctioned. Possibly even more likely however is that the emissions from the ancient 'Hebridean Isles and the even more ancient 'Isle of Arran' are no longer acceptable and they have to be withdrawn from service. Or some other reason will be found. I believe that by then we will be very grateful that CMAL had the foresight to order a larger ship for the Islay run because then we will be forced back down to a single boat operation. Or was that why a larger ship was ordered in the first place?
I am certain of course, that the 'Business Case' that is being presented to the Scottish Ministers will not exactly say any of this. It may not even point out that the saving on fuel and other overheads by only operating to a single port on Islay would be considerable. It will surely dwell instead on the social and economic importance to the local community of having two ports on Islay. But will it really make a 'Business Case' or will Port Ellen be damned by faint praise? What will the statistics say about the number of sailings that have to be diverted, not from Port Ellen to Port Askaig, but the other way round?
We repeat our appeal for the 'Business Case' to be made public. The claim that the document is 'commercially confidential' is a nonsense that would surely be overturned by an appeal to the Information Commissioner. Such an appeal would take a year however, which is the last thing Port Ellen needs right now. Political pressure from other sources must surely now be applied to ensure that the information in this very important document is released, so that the public can be confident that the best case possible for Port Ellen is being presented.
On a personal note: Let's picture a situation where the linkspan at Port Askaig will have to be moved, replaced or modified. Ideally this would have to take place before the new ferry arrives, after all she can't divert to Port Ellen when reconstruction works are carried out at Port Askaig because she doesn't fit. Since the new ferry will commence sailing in March 2011 it is very likely that reconstruction works will start at Port Askaig in the period before March which is the winter season of 2010/2011. This is only 18 months from today, which makes this scenario very likely!! In the CMAL consultation findings you can read that in the season 2007/08 there were 892 sailings to Port Ellen, 1.23 sailings were cancelled and 15.36% were diverted to Port Askaig. Imagine Port Askaig cannot receive vessels because of the modifications being carried out at the link span. This could mean that all the ferries to Port Askaig will be diverted to Port Ellen and almost 17% of the ferries to Port Ellen are likely to be cancelled during that time which means that Islay businesses again will suffer from the ongoing errors made at Port Askaig.
This story was published with kind permission of the Ileach local newspaper.