The mysterious plans for pontoons at Kilcreggan pier

Stormy waters: Kilcreggan Pier at high tide last winter.

A study into multi-milllion pound plans for pontoons for ferries at Kilcreggan, Gourock and Dunoon is not being revealed by Argyll and Bute Council.

Commissioned in December 2011, the feasibility study has been cited in recent weeks by SPT  and by an Argyll and Bute councillor as a solution to ongoing problems with the Kilcreggan to Gourock ferry service

But an Argyll and Bute spokesperson said: “The report cannot be released since it remains incomplete at this time. Further work has been commissioned to establish the cost benefits to the three harbours considered.”

They added: “The initial study was dedicated to reviewing the potential for pontoons at Dunoon and Gourock but SPT requested that the scope be expanded to include Kilcreggan,” adding that costs would also be met by bodies including the Scottish Government, SPT, Argyll Ferries and CMAL.

At a meeting with MSPs and ferry users in May SPT chief executive Gordon Maclennan said ‘berthing arrangements’ were not suitable for small vessels at Gourock and Kilcreggan piers – the latter has been in use for 115 years.

He said that Argyll and Bute had commissioned a feasibility study for pontoons at Gourock, Dunoon and Kilcreggan and discussions with architects were underway, adding that SPT were supporting the study – but he did not say that SPT had asked for Kilcreggan to be included.

Glasgow engineering and architects firm Arch Henderson is conducting the study;   previous projects include linkspans for Western Ferries at Gourock and Hunter’s Quay, as well as the new breakwater and ferry terminal at Dunoon ferries – this project ran from 2003-2005 and cost £5.5m, but was for roll-on roll-off ferries, which no longer run there.

The Dunoon to Gourock ferry service was taken over by Argyll ferries in 2011, running boats for passengers only which have been the focus of enormous local controversy.

In December the council issued a statement saying short to medium term options included ‘improvements in embarkation / disembarkation arrangements which will include the provision of berthing pontoons’, adding: “This process would require options to be developed and examined in terms of technical and operational feasibility, deliverability and cost.

“The target timescale for this would be April 2012, but will be dependent upon the Project and Resource Plan developed by the Scottish Government’s Ferries Division.”

No news was announced in April, although on May 5 Alex Salmond wrote to David Cameron about ‘shovel-ready’ investment projects that could begin immediately; second on the list was ‘Gourock-Dunoon pontoons’ costing £2m – but there was no mention of Kilcreggan.

This mysterious tale raises several questions:

  • At what stage was Kilcreggan added to the feasibility study into pontoons for Gourock and Kilcreggan? Was this after the contract for the Kilcreggan ferry was awarded to Clydelink?
  • Was it SPT who suggested pontoons should be built at Kilcreggan?
  • Why has a study which was commissioned in December still not been completed in July?
  • There is considerable scepticism locally about whether pontoons at Kilcreggan would survive stormy weather – will a breakwater be built?
  • How much will be spent on the feasibility study, let alone the pontoons themselves?
  • Is it really the case that problems with ferries on the Clyde, and in this case Kilcreggan, are due to the piers rather than the boats or operators?
  • Will Kilcreggan’s pier continue to be manned until the feasibility study is published and a decision made?

Note: Details of the pontoon plans were subsequently revealed here and here, following a battle which lasted several months using freedom of information legislation.

Despite the repeated public references in early 2012, none of the publicly-funded bodies concerned  has ever made the plans available otherwise.


  1. The amazing Spinning Bow Tie Extravaganza continues; is there nothing these poltroons cannot foul up? I commented on this when you reported Mr. MacLennan talking about it in a previous article. Several issues here;
    1. Capital costs up front to build a breakwater(without which any pontoons will be either destroyed by storms or detached and thrown upon the beach) and pontoon will be very large against the ferry contract of £500,000 over 5 years; if it offers much change from £3m I’ll be surprised.
    2. Any proposed pontoon system without a barrage must be resisted.
    3. Doubtless no effort will be made to do anything in a vaguely joined up manner; just as no attempt was made to renovate the ferry landing at Gourock(or build a new landing further west and closer to the platforms and station office) while the massive reconstruction was underway, no effort will be directed at finding partners for the work. Perhaps the owner of the boatyard in Kilcreggan would contribute if the proposed barrage sheltered the yard’s slipway and provided amenity?
    4. Can we see some cost analysis of proper options; i.e. how does the cost of a barrage and pontoon compare with other options, like funding a vessel which can continue to use the pier, or rerouting the ferry to use the pier at DRB Marine?
    5. A minor issue compared to the above, but a barrage and pontoon is likely to mean an end to visits by the Waverley.

  2. I know I’m not particularly knowledgable about sea faring things but is a pontoon not just another method of berthing and mooring boats? So why not just improve the pier we have which has stood for all these years and keep the pier staff, this must surely be a cheaper option not to mention more in keeping from an aesthetic point of view. Kilcreggan pier at one time managed many boats of all sizes arriving at Kilcreggan, why not more in the future?

  3. A pontoon is in principal a good idea, for small vessels.

    There are a couple of things to consider. the first is the ‘need’. Until Argyll Ferry’s and SPT decided to place smaller vessels on the routes, there was never a need for pontoons. The Scottish Government and SPT must accept that their poor decision making has led to the situation where there is not adequate means to berth the vessels.

    However – it should be noted that Seabus ran on the Kilcreggan run for years without issue. Pontoons generally are not suitable for larger vessels like Waverley. To fit pontoons to Kilcreggan could potentially prohibit Waverley from using the pier altogether.

    Not only are pontoons not for for larger vessels, but they have to be sheltered. Kilcreggan takes a battering during winter, and any pontoons on the main face of the pier would be destroyed in a very short while.

    Anything can be done with enough budget, but let’s not forget two things.

    SPT chose an operator whose vessel is not fit to operate from Kilcreggan pier. It was designed to operate in calm waters and from pontoons. This was done to save £194,000 a year. The cost of fitting pontoons to Kilcreggan alone (assuming it is even technically feasible and approved) will cost millions to be completed properly. Had SPT rejected the bid with such an unsuitable vessel, this predicament would not have arisen (neither would the farce of the last few months since April, but I digress).

    However this is dressed up, it’s the taxpayer who pays for it. As stated, the Scottish Government in it’s wisdom spent millions on a linkspan in Dunoon that is unlikely ever to be used. Unless the pontoons idea is part of a coherent strategy, this is potentially another collosal waste of money.

    What if car ferries use Gourock and Dunoon piers again in the future? What if, one day, someone sees sense and combines the Gourock/Kilcreggan/Dunoon routes and uses a bigger vessel (remember Streakers used to call at Kilcreggan).

    Sadly this is the outcome of small minded, tactical thinking, not a strategy to ensure that Clyde piers can continue to operate in the future. It’s astonishing that with over 100years of advancements since Kilcreggan pier was built that we find our selves in the situation where apparently we do not have the technology to use the pier in the way it was designed…

  4. Argyll & Bute continue to be hell-bent on sheer stupidity, what on earth is the matter with these people? I think we should have the Council HQ at Kilmory checked to see if they are all suffering from some sort of environmental contamination that causes disorientation and detachment from reality. They surely just can’t all be that bonkers!!

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