Response Ileach Newspaper to Port Ellen Ferry News

As promised yesterday, I post the editorial note from the Ileach Newspaper on the blog today about the new ferry not being able to dock at the existing Port Ellen pier. So far we read the views from Lord George Robertson, Councillor Robin Currie and Alan Reid MP on the contents of the letter from First Minister Alex Salmond. Today the view from the editor of the Ileach Newspaper in an article titled "We Can’t Blame The Politicians"

‘This situation has been fundamentally caused, not by the refusal of politicians to fund the £16m estimated bill to re-develop Port Ellen pier for the new ferry, but by the decision to build a new £24m ferry for Islay that will not fit Port Ellen pier’

The fate of Port Ellen as a ferry port has now been officially acknowledged. There is genuine shock at the CMAL announcement that the ‘do minimum’ options at both Port Ellen and Kennacraig are to be adopted. The £3.4 million to be spent at Port Ellen will enable CMAL to fullfil its contractural obligations to Diageo grain boats, and continue to berth the existing ferries, but little else. It should not be forgotten however, that this situation has been fundamentally caused, not by the refusal of politicians to fund the £16m estimated bill to re-develop Port Ellen pier for the new ferry, but by the decision to build a new £24m ferry for Islay that will not fit Port Ellen pier.

There are two schools of thought as to how we have arrived at this point. The first holds that this whole process is the central plank of a giant conspiracy aimed at depriving Islay of one of its two ports thus saving significant amounts of money. Building a ferry that does not fit Port Ellen was seen as the easiest way of achieving this end, with the public meetings to discuss the re-development, and the engagement of Halcrow to put a Business Case together simply an elaborate, if ultimately successful charade. Lots of people (if not this newspaper) were duped by those sketches of a new terminal building so grandly displayed in the Ramsay Hall and at the Machrie. Continue reading....

Rather more plausibly, the alternative view holds that this is simply a giant cock-up brought about by the nature of big democratic government, changes in administration, changes in personel and the inordinate length of time it takes to get anything done. It is now almost ten years since the recommedations of the first STAG appraisal were ignored and the process started towards building a new ferry for Islay. This argument holds that a series of decisions were taken over the years based on assumptions that things would happen that simply did not. The lessons of history that ordinary mortals would have thought would be ingrained into the psyche of everyone associated with ferry travel on the west coast of Scotland were ignored, and once again we have built a ferry that does not fit the pier.

We have been given various official reasons as to how this came about
1) that ship designers cannot be constrained by existing pier infrastructure. This sounds plausible, but it requires us to believe that the new ship is significantly different to the existing ships. It isn’t. It is basically a similar design that is 30% larger. It can carry 18 cars more than the Hebridean Isles/Isle of Arran. MacBraynes are therefore fundamentally asking that the public purse funds a £16 million pier so that one of the Islay ferries can carry an additional 18 cars. As business plans go, that is not persuasive. There is indeed a serious question about whether the additional capacity is needed for Islay at all. The generally accepted wisdom is that the two ferry service to the island providing five sailings a day is adequate - and it does not require a mathematical genius to work out that two ferries could provide six sailings a day without too much trouble. So why was a bigger ferry built? A replacement ferry that was the same size as the existing ferries would have both saved serious sums of money and been able to do the job it is required to do - which is to serve Islay’s principal ferry port.

2) That it was originally believed that the new ferry would fit Port Ellen - but it only came to be realised that it will not fit at a point in the design and build process when it was too late to step back. This argument, which essentially claims that somebody does not know what they are doing, is worrying. It is however supported by the evidence because the weakest link in the armour of conspiracy theorists who believe that the design of the new ferry is a deliberate ploy to shut Port Ellen is the fact that it does not fit Port Askaig either.

On a personal note I would like to add that if we can't blame the politicians who can we blame. If someone at Calmac/CMAL made a mistake it's ultimately the politicians who are responsible since both companies are government owned. I further suggest to keep an eye out on the ferry review and public consultation after the presentation of the first draft which is expected in spring. I'm convinced that some pieces of the puzzle will fall together then, if not all.