There had been no progress with SPT officials in securing improvements for the Kilcreggan to Gourock ferry link, frustrated villagers heard last night (Tuesday).
Instead, it was confirmed again that pontoons are being considered so the Island Princess does not have to use Kilcreggan pier, while assurances have once again been given that the boat will be upgraded – while an additional bus service is being considered.
Commuters at the monthly meeting of Cove and Kilcreggan Community Council spoke out though about their fears for safety on the 16 year-old boat.
Councillor Robert Macintyre – Argyll and Bute’s representative on SPT – had been asked to speak at the authority’s operations committee meeting last month, voicing the levels of concern and asking for the previous timetable to be restored.
But community council chairman Nick Davies said when he spoke to Clltr Macintyre earlier that day: “He indicated to me that there was not a great deal of interest from SPT in the points that were made.”
Mr Davies added: “I think that above all the community’s frustration is that we are not getting any information out of them. If they are not telling us we assume the worst.”
Community council secretary Murdo MacDonald said the latest passenger numbers – showing an average fall over more than 20% compared to last year – were ‘catastrophic.’
SPT had promised in May that the back-up boat Cailin Oir would be put into service by operators Clydelink ‘in a few days’, so that the Island Princess can be upgraded – but more than 100 days later this has still not happened.
Councillor Maurice Corry was optimistic though that there would finally be some progress, and that he had spoken to Mark Aikman of Clydelink: “The replacement ferry is under trial at the moment. It is awaiting MCA certification.”
He said the timetables had been changed because of the MCA, and told the meeting that following requests from the public had ‘agreed provisionally’ to run an additional bus service from Coulport to Helensburgh on Sunday mornings, leaving perhaps two hours before the current earliest departure of 11.05.
Councillor George Freeman confirmed that Cllr Macintyre ‘didn’t get much joy from SPT, adding: “But none of us have got much joy from them in the last eight months or so.
“We told SPT all along that all we were interested in was a safe and reliable service.”
He said marine engineers had already started preparations for work on the Island Princess, and this would include alterations to the steep, narrow stairs which were currently ‘absolutely ridiculous’.
But villagers who rely on the ferry said this would not address their most serious concerns: “The problem is that the boats have both got the same draft,” said one.
Other members of the public recounted ‘scary’ experiences on the ferry in windy weather, saying ‘on one occasion we were just getting thrown against the pier at Gourock’.
Another stressed: “We have got absolutely no gripe about the crew – they are dong their best – but at the end of the day that boat is not the right boat.”
Kilcreggan’s wooden pier has been used by ferries on a daily basis since the 19th century, but again it seemed that Argyll and Bute saw it as part of the problem:
Cllr Corry said: “The council are looking into putting in floating pontoons at the pier so people can get on at the lower deck.”
Mr Davies said he was grateful for the information, from councillors, ‘which is the most information we have had for some months’.
“There seems to be some light in the tunnel in upgrading the Island Princess. The pragmatist in me says we are stuck with these two vessels for the moment.”
But he added: “We have not had a lot of south westerly weather this summer and it is the south westerlies that will cause problems at Kilcreggan pier.”