North Ayrshire’s Council leader has spoken of a “systemic issue” around the delivery of projects involving ferries.

He said such obstacles have made it “virtually impossible” that Ardrossan will be ready to host the new delay-hit Glen Sannox vessel if it is finally completed next summer.

Council leader Joe Cullinane hit out after councillors probed the possibility of further delays in an estimated £40 million plan to upgrade Ardrossan Harbour, to allow it to host the troubled vessel.

He told assembled councillors last week that discussions between government agency Transport Scotland and owners Peel Ports rumble on.

It comes amid fears that the delayed project will now face a further setback.

Hopes had been high that the upgrade would be ready to accommodate the new flagship Glen Sannox ferry – set to serve the Ardrossan to Brodick route from summer 2022.

But like the completion of the vessel itself – which had suffered a well-documented series of delays – the harbour plan has also faced challenges.

Councillor Cullinane told last Wednesday’s North Ayrshire Council meeting: “Discussions between Transport Scotland and Peel Ports continue on the commercial arrangements for the delivery of the project, Scottish Ministers continue to advise us that they are committed to the ferry service operating from Ardrossan and that they are working to secure a cost-effective solution that delivers the upgrade of Ardrossan harbour.

“North Ayrshire Council remains in ongoing dialogue with officers in Transport Scotland and the Minister to try and bring this to a satisfactory conclusion as soon as possible, enabling these much-needed works to progress.”

And he spoke of the delays which have impeded the plan, saying: “Given the significant delays that have been caused to this project because of the failure to conclude satisfactory commercial agreements on the harbour re-development, it is virtually impossible that construction works at Ardrossan could be completed on time to accommodate the new Glen Sannox when it comes into operation between July 2022 to September 2022.”

His comments came after Arran councillor Timothy Billings tabled questions over the delays, saying: “It’s been reported that the Scottish Government does not agree with the proposed funding arrangements for the developments at the Ardrossan Harbour.

“Reports indicate the Scottish Government wants the port’s owner to take greater responsibility for the funding of the work. At the meeting of North Ayrshire Council back in February, we were told that if the work on the development at the harbour didn’t start by the summer, then there’s no way the port would be ready to take the new Glen Sannox ferry, which we were told at the time would come into service sometime in the summer of 2022.”

He asked for an update on the position and raised fears over the service, telling the meeting: “Obviously, it is extremely concerning that there is this ongoing delay because one remembers that the reason this work on the harbour was required, is that modelling suggested that the reliability of service provided by the Glen Sannox in the existing Ardrossan harbour would actually fall below an acceptable level and be far worse than we currently get at the moment.

“Given that in the meantime, the ferry is likely to operate from Troon until this work is done, it’s a great concern to us on Arran but also, of course, to the people of Ardrossan as well because of the loss of the ferry there, potentially for significant lengths of time and I’m sure that the leader will follow this up with urgency as the opportunity arises.”

He said that questions now exist over whether the Glen Sannox will ever be finished after a “will it or won’t it” saga, adding: “I just wanted to find out what assurances do we have that the alteration work that is planned for Ardrossan harbour will actually be suitable for whatever ferry is finally decided to operate from this harbour because obviously what we don’t want is for it to be decided that the Glen Sannox doesn’t come into operation and we have a different style of the ferry, only to find that actually, a better design would have been more appropriate”.

But he was told by Councillor Cullinane that the Scottish Government’s ministerial task force tackling the issue has not met since the start of the year, although requests have been made for such a meeting to be convened.

The council leader continued: “I think if there was a Taskforce meeting that we could probably drill into some of the details of the design work that would be required around Ardrossan harbour.”

He said the government team “remain confident” that they will be in a position to invite tenders for the design process “soon”, but added: “it’s all based, I understand, on the premise that the Glen Sannox will be operating between Ardrossan and Arran as the boat for the ferry service and there’s been nothing to me to suggest otherwise.”

He revealed that he is set to have “a conversation” with Scottish Ministers this week and added: “Like all projects associated with ferries, it seems, my understanding as well is that the works at Troon are behind schedule as well now, so it just goes to show that whenever you’re doing a project related to harbours or ferries, there seems to be a systemic issue in the system around the delivery and completion of them on budget and on time.”

The Scottish Government-commissioned MV Glen Sannox was originally scheduled to enter service on the Arran route in 2018/19.

But it has been hit by a catalogue of disasters amidst a series of recriminations over missed deadlines and design issues.

The Inverclyde yard where the vessel is under construction also faced staffing shortages before being nationalised by the Scottish Government in 2019 after it went to the wall.
A spokesman for Transport Scotland would not be drawn on detail, saying only: “Discussions between Transport Scotland and Peel Ports Group continue on the commercial arrangements for the delivery of the Ardrossan Harbour Re-development Project. We remain committed to a solution at Ardrossan that can be delivered in a cost effective way reflecting the needs of all of the partners involved.

“The development works at Ardrossan are overseen by a Ministerial Task Force which met in February and announced that the Ardrossan-Brodick/Campbeltown ferry services will operate from Troon port (owned by Associated British Ports) during the construction period at Ardrossan.

“The Task Force brings together Transport Scotland, Peel Ports Group, North Ayrshire Council (NAC), CalMac Ferries Ltd (CFL), Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL), the Arran Ferry Committee and Kenneth Gibson MSP.”