One of the first vessels the Garvel Drydock saw this winter was the Isle of Arran and its pleasing to report she will feature the summer Ardrossan – Campbeltown link as a permanent part of her roster from this year as determined by the Scottish Government.
Transport Scotland made the announcement after the three year trial was pronounced a success, carrying an average of over 10,000 passengers and 2,000 cars per year. The Minister for Transport and Islands said: “…the ferry link between Ardrossan and Campbeltown will become a permanent feature of the CalMac summer timetable”. CalMac stated “we look forward to delivering this service in support of the local community in Campbeltown” while the BBC reported “There had been genuine local anxiety it would come to an end after the three-year pilot”. The BBC also pointed out the summer ferry provided an alternative to the four-hour drive between Campbeltown and Glasgow and it was indeed the first ever regular car ferry service between Kintyre and Ayrshire.
I think this is a rare visionary decision, authorising a ferry between one part of the Scottish mainland and another. It deserves to become a popular way for discerning travellers to reach the West of Scotland, bypassing the Glasgow conurbation and delivering travellers by sea to a very special ‘road to the isles’ up Kintyre then further north and west to the Highlands and Islands.
There are other interesting additions to Calmac’s 2016 services, though of course there are complaints too. There are improved services for the Uists, but on Skye, Mallaig-Armadale changes may mean moving the regular Coruisk to Oban-Craignure. A second return Sunday service between Stornoway and Ullapool is to commence, bearing mind there was no Sunday service at all until 2009.
I wonder if the falling oil revenues in Shetland are driving the Shetland Council to lobby for what they call is fairer funding for their inter-island transport services. They are pressing for early talks with the Scottish Government because, says Shetland Council, they are: “… facing significant challenges in funding services over the years ahead, and it is important that it is not meeting costs that it shouldn’t. Public sector funding is likely to be at its lowest level for some time over the next few years, but that shouldn’t divert us from seeking a fair position for Shetland on funding for inter island transport”.
The Council has agreed a clear set of principles for discussions with the Scottish Government, seeking parity with communities on the west coast of Scotland where the cost of services, vessels and infrastructure is met entirely from the national ‘Transport Scotland’ budget. Especially Shetland and Orkney, but also Argyll and Bute and Highland Councils pay out large sums on ferry services, an obligation unfair in comparison with the demands on councils in mainland Scotland. The Scottish Government recognise that the provision of transport services shouldn’t place undue financial pressure on any Council.
My recent trip to the Northern Isles (SB February 16) took place during the first really big gales of winter, but there have been several more since. I was once told by an experienced captain that in his view, the weather was definitely getting worse in general as well as more extreme. As I write, yet another major storm is sweeping the country and ferries are stormbound.