A meeting arranged by Argyll and Bute Council in a bid to find a positive way forward to improve the ferry service between Dunoon and Gourock has had significant success.
Local Argyll and Bute MSP Michael Russell, who was at the meeting in Dunoon’s Queens Hall last Friday, has agreed to take a series of proposals back to his colleague, Alex Neil, Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure and Capital Investment.
Among them are that the reinstatement of a combined vehicular and passenger service must be considered in the medium to longer term.
The news was hailed as a ‘huge step forward’ by Argyll and Bute Council leader Councillor Dick Walsh.
“The community has not had any alternative before now other than the current service which all agree is not acceptable,” he said.
“In my view, the strength of the evidence now being presented means that the status quo is simply not sustainable. I think the fact that Mr Russell has agreed to put these proposals in front of Mr Neil could prove a very significant step in our fight for a proper ferry service.”
The list of proposals to be put in front of Mr Neil includes immediate areas for action as well as short to medium term options and medium to longer term options.
The immediate action being proposed is that Argyll Ferries, which operates the service, develops a plan within the next two weeks to ‘significantly improve’ the current service.
The intention would be that - through the Scottish Government - Argyll and Bute Council, Inverclyde Council and the Ferries Users Group would be given the opportunity to comment on the improvement plan.
Argyll and Bute Council leader Councillor Dick Walsh said: “There is clearly an urgent need to improve the service we’re currently having to put up with, and I hope that this proposal will trigger that interim improvement.
“The situation just now is unacceptable, and is having a seriously detrimental effect not just on the individuals and businesses who rely on this service, but also on the wider Dunoon and Cowal economy.
“Argyll and Bute Council has consistently stressed the need for this lifeline service to have good reliability, connectivity, quality and accessibility. I am sorry to say that, at present, it has none of those things.
“I am pleased that our local MSP has now agreed that the situation is a serious one and that these proposals are necessary in order to urgently improve it.”
Those present at the meeting also agreed that Mr Russell request Mr Neil to agree a confidential options appraisal exercise, led by Scottish Government officials and supported by Argyll and Bute Council and Inverclyde Council (along with ferry body CMAL where appropriate).
This exercise would look at various options in the short, medium and longer term.
In the short to medium term, the process would examine options for improving the current service provided by the Argyll Flyer and Alicat vessels, the potential utilisation of the Coruisk ferry on the Dunoon-Gourock route,improvements in embarkation / disembarkation arrangements which will include the provision of berthing pontoons and shore side passenger accommodation infrastructure, and any other potential short to medium term proposals which parties consider appropriate for consideration.
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.
In the medium to longer term, the confidential options appraisal process would look at options for the provision of a vehicular ferry service operating between Dunoon and Gourock.
This process would look at all potential options which would include the existing service model, the provision of new vessels designed specifically for the Dunoon-Gourock route by the Scottish Government and the scope to develop an operating model which could allow a private sector operator to provide a vehicular ferry service on this route.
The timescale and resources required to undertake this options appraisal will be identified by the Scottish Government’s Ferries Division, with a target date to develop a Project Inception Document by February 2012.
Councillor Walsh said: “I am delighted by what we agreed, and I am sure the communities of Cowal and Inverclyde will be equally pleased.
“Ever since this passenger service was first mooted, we have felt that our concerns have been falling on deaf ears. At some stages it has felt as if we are banging our heads against a brick wall, but it seems as if that wall may be about to be breached.
“I am grateful to Mr Russell for recognising the gravity of the situation and agreeing to raise these very pressing matters with the Transport Secretary.
“Argyll and Bute Council has said all along that this route requires a combined passenger and vehicle service, and we will continue to campaign in any way possible until such as service is reinstated.
“The outcome of the meeting last week was, I believe, a huge step forward in this regard, and I very much look forward to hearing in the near future how the Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure and Capital Investment plans to take this issue forward.”