What do you propose to do to ensure that Arran residents and visitors have a reliable and resilient ferry service?
Answer: From when I was first elected in 2007 I have continually pressed Scottish Ministers to improve Arran’s ferry service. Many improvements have been made; from the introduction of RET - which was only added into the 2011 SNP Manifesto at my insistence – the rejection of differential RET timetable pricing, extension of the second summer service and the introduction of the MV Catriona. This was originally earmarked for Gigha but I lobbied successfully for its transfer to Lochranza.
Of course, I also lobbied for a new state-of-the-art ferry to ply the Brodick route. Along with Isle of Arran Ferry Committee (IoAFC) I supported having a couple ‘Finlaggan’ sized vessels on the route. However, the ferry operator wanted bigger vessels which it considered would be more ‘flexible’ for network needs. As Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited and Transport Scotland (TS) agreed, Ministers accepted that proposal.
Building two new ferries at Port Glasgow with, it was believed, an innovative and world-class Liquid Natural Gas fuel source, was supported by all political parties at the time. The Glen Sannox was expected to enter service in 2018. The shambles this became is well documented.
Presently we have been informed that the Glen Sannox ferry may not be in operation until 2023. Furthermore, it is not clear when the Ardrossan Harbour development will begin and the estimation is that it will not be completed until 2024. Many have suggested that during the next several years the government should provide an alternative reliable ferry which would include the rental or purchase of a smaller boat or catamaran. Would you support such a proposal?
Answer: Yes. All practical and possible steps should be taken. These positive suggestions have been discussed at IoAFC meetings on numerous occasions and raised with TS and CalMac.
TS has visited harbours to examine vessels in both Copenhagen and Oslo, to lease and - if necessary - adapt for use on the Clyde or other Scottish routes. None of the vessels examined were, however, considered suitable. Nevertheless, this should again be actively pursued.
I raised the provision of catamarans with CalMac CEO Robbie Drummond when I met in March last year. He replied that CalMac is not in favour, saying that catamarans are not suitable for the Clyde as they are less stable and passengers more prone to seasickness. He added that Norway and other countries with catamarans are moving to single-hulled vessels.
The multi-MSP Rural & Economic Connectivity Committee (RECC) produced a 2021 report into the "catastrophic failure" of the Ferguson Scottish ferry build project. Do you agree with the recommendations of that RECC ferry report?
Answer: Yes. I was also the only candidate contesting this constituency who participated in the debate on the committee’s report, just as I have spoken in every ferry debate since 2007.
My contribution - restricted to four minutes by the Presiding Officer - can be seen here.
Arran ferry users have been unable to obtain reliable information regarding timetables for the Glen Sannox and the Ardrossan Harbour development. There have been no community consultations since 2018 and our voices have not been heard. How do you propose to compel government representatives to consult with the ferry users and take into consideration their requests?
4. I raised the need for more community engagement in my contribution to the debate on 02 February. In his summing up, Ferries Minister Paul Wheelhouse said:
“Alasdair Allan was right to focus on the communities, and I hope that he and Kenny Gibson and others would acknowledge that I have been in contact with communities and I have given them the absolute assurance that we are doing everything that we can to get the vessels in place in time, and I have expressed my regret that they are facing delays as a consequence of what has happened at Ferguson’s.”
With regard to information about the Ardrossan Harbour redevelopment, public engagement and ‘comms’ was devolved by the Ardrossan Harbour Taskforce from the start to NAC. As you will know, Bill Calderwood, representing the IoAFC, NAC Leader Joe Cullinane and I are all members. The IoAFC held a virtual meeting with the Taskforce a couple of months ago.
To be fair to NAC, there have been constant delays to the harbour project, not least because of endless legal arguments between Peel, NAC and the Scottish Government regarding who pays for what. Peel has been driving a very hard bargain.
NAC – and Scottish Ministers – want to engage once they have an agreed proposal to consult on. Many of the redevelopment plans have now been agreed and I would hope that formal public engagement takes place on both Arran and in Ardrossan in early summer.