A key island pressure group which has helped to expose Scotland's ferry fiasco has told how it has been forced to disband having become "fatigued from running at brick walls".

The Arran Ferry Action Group which was established in the summer of 2020, believing that the state of lifeline services was "not fit for purpose in terms of reliability, resilience and infrastructure, has passed a resolution to undertake the process of dissolving the group concluding "there was little more they could achieve in the face of intransigence and incompetence by key decision makers".

Its outgoing chairman Sam Bourne highlighted difficulties in trying to engage with decision makers and that it is "now down to government and the respective agencies to act".

One of its last forms of action was to participate in the UK Government- chaired  "summit" on Scotland’s troubled ferry services, with representatives of CalMac earlier this week.  Scotland Office minister John Lamont hosted a roundtable including CalMac chief executive Robbie Drummond and operations director Robert Morrison. 

The group formed in April 2019, amidst the continuing delays and rising costs over the delivery of two lifeline ferries being built by the Scottish Government-owned shipyard firm Ferguson Marine.

Both ferries, Glen Sannox and Glen Rosa were due online in the first half of 2018, with one initially to serve Arran and the other to serve the Skye triangle routes to North Uist and Harris, but are at least six years late, with costs expected to be quadruple the original £97m contract. It has been confirmed that both are now to serve Arran.

Glen Rosa was meant to be delivered to CalMac in August 2018, but that is currently scheduled for May 2025. Glen Sannox, was launched by Nicola Sturgeon nearly seven years ago and was due for delivery in the spring.

READ MORE: CalMac: Failing Scots ferry set to be sidelined for three months

But the dates of arrival have been constantly in a state of flux as their construction has been plagued by design challenges, cost overruns and delays.

Meanwhile, Scottish Government-owned ferry operator CalMac has had to handle a fleet of ageing ferries and has been plagued with breakdowns which have led to disruption across lifeline services.

Mr Bourne said: "We have reached what we feel is the limit of what we can achieve in this form. It is principally driven by a lack of urgency in decision making and implementing solutions from government, and a lack of engagement in key decisions that directly relate to our lifeline service."

Last week part of a Scots port key to provide ferry links to Arran was closed for good in the wake of safety issues.

The Herald: Ardrossan ferry terminal

The Irish Berth at Ardrossan, which had been used by an emergency CalMac ferry for the key lifeline route to Arran was put out of action on January 18 when the harbour authority ordered all users to cease operations.

MV Alfred, as it is unable to use the alternative Ardrossan berth, ended up sent to Ayr and has been providing a freight-only service from Troon.

Peel Ports Group, the harbour owner has decided to close the reserve berth for good due to "accelerated wear and tear" which they say is caused by its increased use.

It comes after the Herald revealed that the port may not ever be used to take much delayed and over-budget ferries despite the green light being given for upgrade works by the current First Minister six years ago.

And also comes as the costs of the project to upgrade the mainland port of what is one of Scotland's busiest ferry routes, which is in limbo, has doubled.

The Scottish Government-owned ferry operator CalMac has already been planning to use Troon rather than Ardrossan for the two ferries that will serve Arran. That was when it was hoped that the first of the vessels would be ready for passengers in the Spring of last year.

"The developments of the last few weeks highlight the issues perfectly," said Mr Bourne.

"The ageing fleet and the ageing harbour infrastructure have been well known and identified as risks.

"But we still do not know when the new vessels will be delivered, when we will divert to Troon and then how long that diversion may be for. Meanwhile we are relying on a 40-year-old vessel to operate the core service to a harbour at Ardrossan that is in very poor condition.

"We have been unable to build a new volunteer committee to take the group forward and therefore decided to start the process to dissolve.

The Herald: The Calmac Arran ferry at Brodick

"It is disappointing, but ultimately there is only so much energy you can throw into this before you become fatigued from running at brick walls.

"Our main founding aim was to lobby for service improvements by highlighting the issues with our lifeline ferry service on Arran, and across the wider network, and that it needs to be treated like a crisis.

"Through engagement with MSPs and parliamentary committee, we have raised the profile of the issue over the last few years. It is now frequently covered in Holyrood, and across the media, such that it is a well-known issue.

"Despite the bricks that get thrown, and the constant risk of reputational damage to island economies of highlighting the issues, to ignore it would be even more damaging.

"It now needs government and the respective agencies to act.

"The problems won't disappear without some major developments from government.

"The challenges affect every part of island life and I fear things may still get worse before improvement."

It all began when a group of nine island residents called a public meeting five years ago to seek opinions on what can be done to improve the ferry service.

Some 164 people attended, the action group of volunteers was formed, and a database of written suggestions was compile demanding service improvements and accountability in future investment decisions.

One of the concerns at the time was why the island was getting such a large boat when it would require tens of millions to alter Ardrossan harbour. It was suggested two medium sized boats were what were really needed which would fit in Ardrossand without an expensive alteration.

It has emerged that there continues to be issues over the project costs of altering Ardrossan – which in 2022 was estimated at £40m – and how it would be divided between the Scottish Government quango Transport Scotland, the harbour owner Peel Ports and North Ayrshire Council.

An account of that meeting said: "At the end of the meeting, there was unanimous agreement that our current service is not fit for purpose and similar support for the constitution of an action group to take matters forward. Several individuals, with a range of relevant experience and skills, volunteered to join the steering group."

Within a few weeks it was estimated that 500 people had already signed up their support for the Action Group on an island with an estimated population of around 4,600. Before the proces to dissolution, it was estimated that the group was supported by nearly 1,400 ferry users.

A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “It is for CalMac to determine the actions required in relation to developments at Ardrossan Harbour to ensure continuity of service for the communities that rely on these vital ferry links.

“The Scottish Government remains committed to ensuring the Arran ferry service is fit for the future and we will continue to develop the business case for upgrading Ardrossan Harbour with project partners, which includes the Isle of Arran Ferry Committee as the recognised island community representative.”