BUSINESS-owners on the Isle of Arran have vented their fury over the loss of revenue and disruption to trade they say has been caused by the increasing unreliability of the island’s lifeline ferry service.

Islanders have told The Herald that a project which repositioned the harbour at Brodick, part of a £31 million investment to accommodate a new ferry for the Arran to Ardrossan route, has led to a spike in cancellations.

Locals say the change, which shifted the pier’s position by 90 degrees, has meant the high-sided ferries which serve the island are much more susceptible to easterly winds, making cancellations much more frequent. And they claim the worsening reliability of the service is causing disruption to business, as well as leading people to miss medical appointments on the Scottish mainland.

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A campaign group has been set up on Arran to lobby the Scottish Government and the various public agencies responsible for harbour infrastructure with their concerns. Membership of the group has soared from around 160 locals when it held its first meeting two months ago to almost 1,000, signalling the increasing frustration being felt by islanders over the situation.

Sources insist the anger is not directed at Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac) staff who run the ferries day to day but at the public bodies responsible for the harbour changes. These include Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL), which owns much of Scotland’s ferries and harbour infrastructure, and Transport Scotland, a Scottish Government agency.

Gavin Fulton, chairman of the Arran Ferry Action Group and a local business-owner, said: “The combined effects of ageing vessels, coupled with the disastrously misaligned new berth at Brodick, means the Arran ferry service has become woefully unreliable.

READ MORE: Analysis: New Brodick pier causing misery for ferry users

“Hospital appointments are missed, tourists become stranded, work is disrupted, and businesses are losing vital revenue. The financial costs to Arran’s economy is estimated at £7 million annually; the adverse effects on the lives of local people is incalculable.”

The Herald: Arran ferryArran ferry

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The anger has been brought to light one day after an investigation by The Herald highlighted major concern over the current procurement policy for acquiring vessels and harbour infrastructure for the ferry network serving the Highlands and Islands.

Ferry experts have criticised CMAL for acquiring vessels which they say believe are too big and too complex for many of the ports they serve. And they argue that a lack of joined-up thinking means that, in some cases, huge sums of money are having to be invested in upgrading harbours to accommodate vessels which are too big for existing quayside facilities. CMAL has defended its strategy.

The body instigated major investment in the harbour at Brodick in part to accommodate the arrival of a new ferry, the Glen Sannox under construction at the Ferguson Marine yard in Port Glasgow, to run route between Arran and Ardrossan on the mainland.

The harbour project, which got under way in 2016, was initially expected to have cost £18m but the price swelled to £31.2m, which according to CMAL’s latest accounts made it the “biggest and most comprehensive redevelopment of a terminal facility” in its history.

However, sources say CMAL ignored the advice of local mariners by shifting the harbour to a position at right angles to the previous facility, making it more susceptible to easterly winds and, as such, more difficult for vessels to berth even in moderate conditions. It has also been claimed that ships now roll in the berth in such conditions, causing damage to the passenger access system, ropes to snap and damage to the car ramp. It also means ships are unable to lie alongside the pier overnight.

READ MORE: Ministers demand end to CMAL-McColl ferry row

Official figures obtained by The Herald show that 162 scheduled sailings between the two ports were cancelled in 2018 for weather reasons, up from 127 the year 

before. There were 155 weather-related cancellations in 2016, 252 in 2015 and 144 in 2014.The harbour opened last April.

However, it is not just the pier locals are angry about. There are misgivings over the new terminal building. Sally Campbell, who sits on the Arran Ferry Action Group, said the new terminal is difficult to use for travellers with heavy luggage, prams or disabilities because of the high number of stairs and overcrowding on the lifts. Ms Campbell also voiced concern over the 200-metre walk passengers now have to make from the terminal to the boat. She said: “Fear of missing connecting bus services in Brodick is a new phenomenon, as the old ferry ramp was short, close to buses and let passengers off at least two at a time with a one minute walk to buses. Now people get off one at a time, [with] slower walkers fearing the bus will leave before they get there to keep to the timetable."

A spokesman for CalMac said: "Looking at the statistics for weather related cancellations on the Ardrossan to Brodick route over recent years there is no clear upward or downward pattern. For instance in 2015 there was around 55% more weather related cancellations as there was in 2018 and if you look at weather related delays there were 20% more in 2017 than there were in 2018.’

A spokeswoman for CMAL said: “The orientation of the new pier was agreed by CMAL, CalMac and design engineers based on wave and wind modelling exercises, vessel simulations and marine engineering designs. It is considered the best orientation for a pier that is perpendicular to the shore, and for the Brodick bay location.

"All piers, regardless of orientation, are susceptible to wind and wave conditions, which at times can be harsh around Scotland’s coast, even during summer months. To remove the tidal restrictions that were in place at the old pier, we needed a pier that would provide a deeper draft, placing vessels in deeper water, and that meant moving it further out from the shore."

On the terminal building, the spokesowoman added: "Stair angle, width and step size all meet regulation and building control guidelines.

"The walk from the terminal building to the vessel via the passenger access system takes around four minutes at a slow pace.  We do not consider this to be excessive.

"In addition, CalMac staff do offer assistance to those that need it. Both the number and the capacity of lifts were carefully considered during design. There are two 13-person lifts and this capacity was never intended to cater for all foot passengers; the majority of passengers do use the stairs. We conducted thorough public engagement and stakeholder consultation as part of this project, including engagement with accessibility and disability groups.”