New lifeline ferry ports on Islay and Bute are running millions of pounds over budget and are months overdue, The Herald can reveal.

Argyll and Bute Council, the authority behind the as yet unlicensed "international" airport at Oban, yesterday admitted that it was facing extra bills of more than £8m for just two harbour redevelopments.

Costs have doubled for a plan to expand the tiny but vital harbour at Port Askaig on Islay and are now said to be "spiralling" at a trouble-hit improvement programme at Rothesay.

Caledonian MacBrayne yesterday said it was "seriously concerned" by delays in both projects, which are frustrating efforts to improve ferry services to both islands.

Hugh Dan MacLennan, CalMac's spokesman, said: "We appreciate the challenges of building and maintaining these facilities but we are concerned about anything which would jeopardise the quality and reliability of lifeline services."

The delays and cost overruns are just the latest problems to hit Argyll's often controversial programme of transport improvements.

A council spokeswoman yesterday acknowledged that the Port Askaig redevelopment would now cost £12.775m, up from an original estimate of £6.5m.

The "second phase" of the development - a new ramp for ro-ro ferries - should have been ready months ago but is now not expected to be operational until well into next year.

The whole project, which was supposed to take just three years when it was begin in 2004, will not be completed until November next year.

The current stumbling block is that the ferry from Islay to Jura is berthed in the space reserved for the bigger CalMac ferry to the mainland. "Last Saturday, a ferry had to bob around in 15-knot gales for an hour-and-a-half because it couldn't get landed," Dr MacLennan said.

Robin Currie, a Liberal Democrat councillor based on Islay, said: "It seems to be taking forever and costs seem to be spiralling all the time."

In Rothesay, CalMac has been forced to close its relatively new terminal building after "cracks" appeared in its walls as contractors carried out major and ever-increasing works at the harbour. The building had to be evacuated. Dr MacLennan said: "The terminal building is not in use because it is not safe."

The council is trying to convert the inner harbour into a marina. CalMac has bought new ferries but cannot use them properly without a new linkspan, which, although in place, is not in commercial use yet.

"The delay has been caused by unfortunate circumstances," said Robert MacIntyre , an SNP councillor based on Bute. Insiders, however, believe the final bill from contractors could be disputed.

Both projects at Port Askaig and Rothesay are considered vital to the future of what are increasingly successful island economies.

CalMac recently increased services to Islay, partly because of a substantial increase in demand from island distilleries.

The Scotch Whisky Association yesterday underlined that "early infrastructure improvements" on Islay were necessary.

The island's £3.25m new-look Bruichladdich pier was supposed to take new double-hulled oil tankers but is still not fully operational.

Oban Airport, however, remains extremely controversial with no aviation expert prepared to go on the record in its support. The original capital cost of the project of £4.5m has now hit £7.7m. The council yesterday said it was confident that the airport would be licensed next month to provide scheduled flights.

The strip is currently losing large sums of money. The airport earned little more than £9000 revenue last year, the council said. Its wage bill was nearly £155,000.

Len Scoullar, the Bute councillor who speaks on islands issues, said: "We have made the Scottish Government aware of the fact that the projects have been more difficult than first anticipated with extra costs."

Costly delays to services

  • Port Askaig, Islay
    Project Redevelopment of ferry harbour.

Original estimated cost £6.5m.

Current estimated cost £12.775m.

Estimated delay Unknown, already at least one year.

  • Rothesay, Bute
    Project Redevelopment of ferry harbour, construction of marina.

Original estimated cost £9.1m rising to £11.4m when scope of project changed.

Current estimated cost £13.6m.

Estimated delay Unknown, already months overdue.

  • Oban Airport, Connel, Argyll
    Project Upgrade of airports at Oban, Colonsay and Coll to provide scheduled air services.

Original cost £4.5m.

Current estimated cost £7.7m.

Estimated delay Months; airports to be licensed no sooner than January and February.

  • Dunoon Linkspan, Cowal, Argyll
    Project Construction of new ro-ro ferry terminal.

Final cost £6.5m Delay The new facility has never been used.

Source: Argyll and Bute Council