The following were all printed in the Dunoon Observer, 20th October 2006.
The two top articles are also available in the electronic version of the
paper for that day
Former CalMac superintendent refutes not fit
for use claim
WHILE I appreciate concerns from councillors and members of the
public about spending substantial sums on the old linkspan, unless a ferry
can be provided by CalMac or another company to operate from the new linkspan
then I feel personally that we have no option but to spend the money to
serve the needs of the travelling public.
That was the stark view of the situation from Councillor Brian Chennell
The council believes that the new linkspan should be brought into operation
as soon as possible, and that theres no reason not to do so.
And thats the crunch. Theres an obvious - and ongoing - problem
with the linkspan at Dunoon Pier - so why the reluctance to use the new
In a statement last week CalMac Chief Executive said that the linkspan
was not fit for purpose.
Asked to elaborate on this, communications director Hugh Dan MacLennan
said: The lighting is inadequate and theres no gangway.
This view, however, was hotly contested by Sandy Ferguson, who speaks
with some authority on the subject
Mr - or more properly - Captain Ferguson, was until 1998 CalMacs
Marine Superintendent, so any views that he might have on whether the
linkspan is fit for purpose are based on considerable experience,
not least of which was his role as the companys senior operational
He said: I went for a walk round the terminal on Monday and Im
at a loss to understand what Mr MacLennan means. The lighting is absolutely
first class - Ive also checked with the Pier Master and he assures
me that its is fully functional.
He went on: Using a gangway is even easier than I envisaged. There
is more than ample space to move the present gangway and operate it at
the new berth.
If, as I expect, the present gangway will not reach the higher
gangway doors of the Bute at high tides, then a standard gangway up to
20 metres in length can be utilised straight on to the ship which would
only require a small lifting davit on the ships side above the gangway
door with a one-man operated electric gangway lifting winch.
He concluded: CalMac can easily calculate the maximum length of
gangway required, which I imagine would certainly be less than 20 metres,
but the whole thing couldnt be more straightforward.
Asked if his company would be interested in running to the linkspan if
approached by the council, Western Ferries Managing Director Gordon
Ross said: Our door has always been open in that respect; we believe
that the reason no approach has been made is because of the Scottish Executives
However, Western have always made it clear that they would not be interested
in operating from the CalMac terminal at Gourock.
Councillors to meet minister over pier issue
COUNCILLORS are to meet with Transport Minister Tavish Scott next Thursday
in a last-ditch attempt to resolve the growing crisis over Dunoon Pier.
Councillors are hoping that the minister can be shifted from the stance
he adopted back in July that he would be content for CalMac
to operate a passenger-only service until the new Dunoon-Gourock contract
Councillors demanded an urgent meeting following this disclosure,
and next weeks date was apparently the first free hour in Mr Scotts
Councillor Brian Chennell said that he hoped that George Lyon, as the
local MSP, would also be present.
The news of the meeting follows an exchange of views last Wednesday between
council officials and CalMac representatives which showed just how far
apart the two sides are.
The meeting was to discuss the implications of the weight restrictions
to be imposed on the old piers linkspan while strengthening work
is to be carried out. The remedial works will take around four months
to complete and will be finished by the end of February in a worst-case
scenario. The meeting ended with an unseemly who said what
row over its content. Argyll and Bute Council has emphatically denied
asking CalMac to switch vessels currently serving the Isle of Bute to
service the new linkspan in Dunoon, as claimed by the ferry operator.
A spokesperson for the council said, This is simply not true. Argyll
and Bute Councils overriding objective is to ensure the continuation
of a passenger and vehicle town centre to town centre service.
This can best be done by using the new linkspan. We are disappointed
to arrive at this stage and note that with only days of the tendering
process left, we have had no approaches from prospective tenderers in
relation to a harbour access agreement.
However, CalMacs recollection of the meeting is different. Communication
Director Hugh Dan MacLennan said that It became clear as the meeting
progressed that the underlying agenda is to enable the council to make
the case for having MV Bute brought from Rothesay to use the linkspan
Councillor Brian Chennell, Chairman of Bute and Cowal Area Committee,
said that the scale of proposed repairs would not offer a permanent solution.
Six companies had been asked to tender for the work, and after these tenders
had been submitted the council would then look at a way forward.
Asked why the restrictions were being imposed on November 1 and not immediately,
he said that this was because the consultant engineers were assuming the
beginning of winter weather after this date.
A further attempt to resolve the situation was taking place as we went
to press. A meeting between CalMac Chief Executive Lawrie Sinclair and
Argyll and Bute Council Leader Allan Macaskill had been arranged for yesterday
Editorial Comment: Dunoon Observer Friday 20th October
THE blame for the acrimonious row between Argyll and Bute Council and
Caledonian MacBrayne over Dunoon Pier lies wholly and squarely at the
door of the Scottish Executive.
This newspaper make no apology for returning yet again to the issue of
the ferry service to Dunoon. The sequence of events which has brought
us to this sorry pass might be expected in a banana republic but
not in a country which pioneered the whole concept of integrated sea transport.
Weve had seven years of empty words from a whole series of politicians
who are consistent only in their ability to insult the collective intelligence
of the public.
Last week MEP Alyn Smith asked the European Transport Commissioner a
simple question: Do you need a Public Service Obligation to run
a subsidised ferry service.
The answer he got was a categoric yes.
To which the Scottish Executive responded by saying: This supports
the position we have been taking all along
In June Tavish Scott, the current transport minister said: PSOs
.deliver on the Executives key policy objectives.
Is it fair to conclude that, not only are they singing from different
hymnsheets, theyre not even singing in the same church?
When V-ships pulled out of the process for Dunoon- Gourock George Lyon
angrily hit out at the company citing as proof of their lack of interest
the fact that the company had never contacted the council to establish
the cost of harbour dues.
Nor has anyone else
does that tell you something?
Now we have him telling Calmac and Argyll and Bute Council to get their
heads together and resolve the impasse over Dunoon Pier.
This from a minister in a government whose mind-boggling incompetence
is entirely responsible for the situation in the first place the
same government whose tender document tells would-be bidders that the
pier may not last beyond the spring of next year!
We are a matter of days away from the conclusion of the tendering
process for Dunoon-Gourock.
Back in August Professor Neil Kay predicted that there would be no serious
bids for the route, and that the blame would be put for the failure on
the so-called Kay proposals for which he emphatically denies
Professor Kay has proven to be something of a modern Cassandra. He has
on numerous occasions predicted with uncanny accuracy the way this process
would go, but no-one at the Scottish Executive has paid him any heed.
Maybe its time they did, before its too late.
Fact: Calmac has two ships capable of operating into the new linkspan
at Dunoon. At least one of them reportedly both are due
to go into layup, coincidentally, over the period of restrictions on Dunoons
Why cant one of these vessels be designated to run between the
railhead at Gourock and the new linkspan?
Its a simple question, but no-one seems able or willing
- to provide a credible answer.
Next week Argyll and Bute Councillors will get just one hour with the
Transport Minister to discuss the crisis, among other transport-related
items affecting the area - a meetign they asked for back in July.
It's up to Tavish Scott to grasp how crucial this matter is to the future
of Cowal and to make that sixty minutes matter.
Letter from Neil Kay
We now know through Freedom of Information that there were at least six
meetings between the Scottish Executive and Western Ferries to discuss
Western's proposals for a "Users Charter" (an Executive/Western
agreement setting Western prices and services), and that at least two
meetings involved the past and present Transport Ministers, Nicol Stephen
and Tavish Scott.
The current minister Tavish Scott told Parliament this January; "Discussions
on this issue ... were overtaken by the Executives proposals to
seek an operator willing to provide a service between Gourock Pier and
Dunoon Pier on a commercial basis".
However, these Executive proposals were approved by Parliament in December
2004, but details revealed under Freedom of Information have since confirmed
that the Executive continued to encourage Western Ferries to discuss their
"Users Charter" proposals with the Executive and there was at
least one meeting between the minister Tavish Scott and Western Ferries
some months after that.
Despite heavy Executive censorship of what was discussed and agreed, we
know Western Ferries made it absolutely clear in these meetings that their
"Users Charter" depended on their being the monopoly operator
of vehicle ferries Gourock-Dunoon, and the Scottish Executive stated they
So any discussion of "Users Charter" implied two conditions
- CalMac withdrawing their vehicle-carrying ferries, and no other operators
of vehicle services coming into the Gourock-Dunoon market.
These discussions about how a possible Western monopoly would work took
place in private at a time when the Executive's public position was they
were taking steps to encourage competition on the route.
Many of the ten operators who first expressed interest in coming into
the Gourock-Dunoon market have since expressed frustration with what appeared
to be impediments put in their way by the Executive. Recently, V-Ships
withdrew from the short list for the tender stating they were "unable
to convince our shareholders with sufficient confidence that we could
compete on a level playing field" Western is now building second
linkspans at both Hunters Quay and McInroys Point that will allow them
to run twin-track service on that route and handle all the vehicle-carrying
And now CalMac have announced that they may go passenger-only on what,
on close examination, seems little more than a pretext. And once CalMac
goes passenger-only for several months, you will not see CalMac vehicle-carrying
returning. The Ali Cat (or equivalent) is what is going to be left. Over
the past few months CalMac have repeatedly stated that they are only obligated
to run a passenger service Gourock-Dunoon, and that obligation is only
for an hourly service. If lucky, there might be two Ali Cats.
Now, of course, all these subsequent events could be coincidental and
have nothing to do with the series of meetings and correspondence involving
the Executive about how a Western monopoly could work. It may simply be
that the Executive is just guilty of stupidity and naiviety in this context.
There is only way that the Executive can prove that their intentions were
honourable here and that is to publish everything that was discussed at
these "Users Charter" meetings.
Because if the information already released raises legitimate concerns
about the public interest not being served by the Executive here, there
will be no surprise if legitimate concerns are raised regarding the Executive's
motives for censorship of even more details of what they discussed and
agreed in this context.
You can find what has been published so far about these meetings by Googling
"Western Ferries" +"Users charter", it's the top hit.