A campaign to have the Gourock to Kilcreggan ferry service given ‘lifeline’ status seems to have foundered.
Currently funded by Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT), the service was surrounded by controversy after Clydelink won the contract last year.
MSP Jackie Baillie led a campaign to have it designated a lifeline route so it could be taken over by Transport Scotland.
But this week it emerged that SPT and Argyll and Bute Council chiefs had met behind closed doors in Lochgilphead to oppose the move.
Robert MacIntyre, the council’s representative on SPT, told Cove and Kilcreggan community councillors that SPT chief executive Gordon Maclennan had met council leader Dick Walsh, marine operations manager Martin Gorringe and chief executive Sally Loudon last Thursday ‘and explained to them the consequences if it was a lifeline service’.
“They agreed that they would not ask for a lifeline service because they did not think the criteria were there for it,” he told last night’s meeting.
“I don’t think that we should go any further with this at the moment, we have had no complaints recently.
“The boat has been off less than the ones from Dunoon to Gourock,” he added – ironically today (Wednesday) the Kilcreggan service saw several cancelled sailings while the Argyll Flier was still in operation to Dunoon.
“There are 13 sailings a day currently and the actual passenger numbers are up, but if it was lifeline all the concession fares and the rest of it might not be given,” warned Cllr MacIntyre, adding that the council’s executive director of development and infrastructure Sandy Mactaggart had ‘said we should be careful because we could get fewer sailings’.
In fact the number of sailings has already been cut – in August 2012, within months of SPT awarding the contract.
Community councillor Derek Fowlis said the warnings amounted to ‘bully boy tactics, a general threat’, while secretary Murdo MacDonald said: “Just because it is a lifeline service, we would get less sailings?
“There is no logic in that at all. It is the contract which specifies the number of sailings, that is nothing to do with whether it’s a lifeline service or not.”
Cllr MacIntyre said only islands had designated lifeline services and the Dunoon to Gourock service funded by Transport Scotland was not lifeline.
This claim seems questionable however – in 2011 Cllr Walsh, who lives in Dunoon, said the link between his town and Gourock was a ‘lifeline service’, while Scottish Government publications online would seem to indicate it has this designation and David Wilson, Inverclyde’s member of SPT, said the route had lifeline status in a radio interview earlier this year.
Cllr MacIntyre added that Audit Commission investigations, Freedom of Information requests ‘and all the rest of it’ surrounding the Kilcreggan ferry had already cost SPT £41,000.
And Cllr George Freeman, who had asked for the audit reports, said: “We have moved on from when the contract was awarded. There is no threat to the service.
“The majority now are saying the service is running as good as it ever did. The problem will come when this contract comes to an end and the time comes to renew it.”
Community council chairman Nick Davies said: “Perhaps naively I thought if it was a lifeline service it would be better.
“I thought with the Scottish Government controlling it we would get a better service overall in this part of the Clyde.”
Cllr MacIntyre said SPT had funded most of the work carried out on the pier earlier this year – although a council statement at the time said SPT had contributed £27,000 towards the total cost of more than £200,000 – and again held out the possibility of better access for the disabled at Kilcreggan pier.
He said a feasibility study had been completed by SPT but without the co-operation of Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) at Gourock the scheme would be unlikely to go ahead.
In June 2012 a feasibility study for pontoons at Kilcreggan, Dunoon and Inverclyde was completed – it cost £19,961.21, with the Scottish Government paying half the cost and the rest being shared between SPT, Argyll Ferries, CMAL and Inverclyde and Argyll and Bute councils.
The study has been referred to several times by councillors and SPT officials but was only revealed on this website after a Freedom of Information battle lasting several months.
It stated that pontoons in Kilcreggan would cost £0.5m and £1.45m in Dunoon. The Gourock pontoons would cost £1.14m – but the Kempock Street Bay site is thought unsuitable unless £3.5m extra is spent on building a breakwater.
Both Mr Davies and Cllr MacIntyre expressed fears for the future of the summer-only Sunday service, which is contracted separately, and Cllr MacIntyre said he would give the community council notice in advance of this decision.
Mr Davies asked what had happened to the awning to protect passengers from the rain which had been promised as part of the Island Princess refit earlier this year, and Cllr Maurice Corry said he would contact Clydelink about this.
Full details of the pontoon feasibility study are available in these stories:
- £2m plans for pontoons in Dunoon and Kilcreggan revealed
- How they would look – the planned pontoons
- Opinion – the £20,000 red herring