Ferries plan: great news or a huge disappointment to Bute?

The Scottish Government’s Ferries Plan has been hailed as great news for Argyll and Bute – and damned as a huge disappointment at the same time.

As might be expected, the content of the plan has been warmly welcomed by the SNP and criticised by the party’s opponents – particularly Argyll and Bute’s MP Alan Reid, who has hit out after Bute was promised onlyminor improvements to the Rhubodach-Colintraive service.

Despite a local desire for later sailings on the Rothesay-Wemyss Bay route, the plan says this will not happen for the time being on cost grounds, and promises only that the subject will be “given further consideration at the time of deciding on the specification for the next tendered CHFS contract”.

The plan promises a later finish to the operating day on the Rhubodach route – though there still appears to be some uncertainty over the extent of the changes.

As we reported on Wednesday, although one part of the plan (paragraph 45) promises a 9pm finish to the Rhubodach-Colintraive service all year round, Appendix 2 states that the change “will provide a later evening sailing on one additional day”.

Appendix 7, however, states there will be 28 additional sailings per week across the Kyles, which seems to support the promise of a year-round 9pm finish to the service.

Mr Reid said: “The SNP’s Ferries Review has proven a huge disappointment to Bute.

“Despite many islanders who responded to the consultation calling for improvements to the Wemyss Bay to Rothesay service, the SNP have refused to do so.

“The SNP have gone back on their proposals to extend the Colintraive-Rhubodach service to midnight. Instead all that will happen is that from September to March the last sailing will be at 9pm instead of 8pm. From April to August the last sailing is already at 9pm. While any improvement to the service is welcome, the cancellation of plans to extend the service to midnight are disappointing.

“On top of these disappointments the SNP have added around ten per cent to the RET fares formula. Although this doesn’t affect Bute at present, when RET does eventually arrive, the fares will about ten per cent higher than they should have been.

“This is a slap in the face from the SNP to everyone who signed the recent petition calling for cuts in the fares.”

Elsewhere in Argyll and Bute, the plan promises to introduce an experimental summer service between Campbeltown and Ardrossan via Arran, an additional sailing between Colonsay and Kennacraig via Islay, and to retain the secondary services to Mull and Arran.

In the longer term a second vessel is to be provided for Mull and there will be improvements to the winter service to Coll and Tiree – though all the proposals are subject to future government spending review commitments.

Argyll and Bute’s SNP MSP Michael Russell said: “After many months attending meetings and pressing Argyll and Bute’s case I warmly welcome the Ferry Plan and in particular the new summer experiment for Campbeltown, the retention of routes such as Tobermory/Kilchoan and the increased hours for Bute and Colintraive.

“Argyll and Bute needs to be as connected and as accessible as possible if we are to be economically successful. I am delighted that my colleague, Keith Brown has also made reference about other transport initiatives affecting Argyll and Bute and their progress.

“This is all evidence that the SNP are standing up for the people of Argyll and Bute, taking their concerns and aspirations seriously, and making the investment necessary. After years of neglect we have listened, we have heard and now we are acting.”