THE bitter row over the transfer of one of Scotland’s ferry routes has intensified after opponents claimed it would cost the taxpayer £166million to change the route.

Supporters of the retention of the historic Ardrossan link to Arran say the public purse would have to absorb costs of £5.5m every year for the next 30 if ministers agree to switching ports to affluent Troon further south.

The cost would include replacing £30m lost to the community in Ardrossan.

Submitting their case to the Scottish government, the local authority and owners of Ardrossan port say the significantly longer distance between Troon and Arran would also result in longer journey times, higher fares and fewer sailings.

But the claims were dismissed by rivals as “fantasy” numbers being used to prevent the switch to Troon

Ardrossan is campaigning to retain the 180-year-old ferry route following an attempt by Associated British ports to shift the service to Troon.

ABP recently lost a service to Northern Ireland and promised to invest £8million redeveloping the mothballed ferry dock in Troon if the Arran services operated from the South Ayrshire port. Last week it announced it had installed a webcam to “prove its superior reliability”.

In its submission, the Ardrossan campaigners said the switch would lead to £75m in higher passenger fares due to the road equivalent tariff formula since the Troon route to Arran is 38 per cent further than the present crossing.

It said publicly-owned ferry operator Calmac would face an extra £9m in extra fuel costs, £300,000 per year, £15m in additional crew costs, a further £15m in ferry servicing and £30m capital funding requirement to replace losses to the local community.

North Ayrshire Council leader Joe Cullinane said: “Our study shows the true extent of the cost to ‘Scotland plc’ of moving the ferry to Troon. These costs would need to be borne by passengers, government and the private and public sectors. Everyone would lose out.”

“The figures are horrendous and underline the point that we have been making all along, that the ardrossan crossing is the shortest, fastest and cheapest route available and there is simply no business or economic case for moving the ferry to troon.”

“The removal of the ferry would also jeopardise plans for a further £100 million worth of regeneration investment in ardrossan, which is already one of the most deprived communities in scotland.

“The ferry routes to arran and campbeltown are the heartbeat of this town..

Doug Coleman, Peel Ports’ project director for Ardrossan said: “Moving the ferry from ardrossan would not only result in a huge cost for all concerned and be an enormous blow to the already-fragile economy of north Ayrshire, it would also result in a 38 per cent longer journey, higher ticket prices and fewer sailings for the Arran residents who rely on the service.”

Cunninghame North msp Kenneth Gibson said: “This report reveals the huge, ongoing costs of switching the ferry away from the shortest, fastest and cheapest route.

“Having discussed their investment plans in detail with peel ports and north ayrshire council i’m very confident that continuing to sail from new, modern facilities at ardrossan is a no-brainer for the scottish taxpayer and will deliver the most reliable and convenient service for arran residents and visitors alike.”

A spokesman for ABP said: “This is not the time for fake news, this time for facts. Troon is better value for the taxpayer. Troon is more reliable. Above all Troon is better for Arran.

“The Scottish Government is undertaking a detailed assessment of the respective routes. The outcome of that study will not be determined by fantasy numbers.”