ARRAN residents are becoming frustrated and increasingly concerned over the continued delay to the Ardrossan Harbour upgrade, a user group has warned.

Sam Bourne, the chair of the Arran Ferry Group, spoke out after the Scottish Government revealed the project - which will allow the new Glen Sannox ferry, and its sister ship MV Glen Rosa, to operate from Ardrossan - had been delayed again due to rising contruction costs. 

A review of the project is expected to be completed by November.

With the long-delayed Glen Sannox now hopefully set to enter service next spring, it will have to operate out of Troon harbour until the Ardrossan upgrade is completed.

Current estimates mean that it could be operating from Troon for up to three years - if the harbour upgrade does finally go ahead.

North Ayrshire councillors were due to meet on Wednesday to consider a motion calling on the Scottish Government to make an unequivocal commitment to retaining Ardrossan as the route's mainland ferry port.

Mr Bourne told the Herald this week: "The continued delay to the Ardrossan Harbour upgrade is a source of frustration and increasing concern among those who rely on the Arran ferry service.  

"The biggest factor is simply the uncertainty for the future of our lifeline service."

After the latest Scottish Government statement, Mr Bourne said: "Numerous questions remain unanswered.

"Key among them are when will the diversion to Troon will commence with the uncertainty on delivery of MV Glen Sannox, what the service may look like with the longer passage time reducing the number of sailings per day, and how long the diversion will be for? 

"And now, the question of will the upgrade actually ever happen?"

The Ardrossan upgrade was agreed by then transport minister Humza Yousaf six years ago when it became apparent that the design of the new ferry was unsuitable for the existing facility.

That announcement followed a public commitment from the government that Ardrossan would remain the Arran ferry's mainland port, in the face of a rival bid from Troon.

Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald: The new Glen Sannox

Yet the work has still to begin.

It had been earmarked to start early next year, but the Scottish Government's decision to review the rising costs of the project will inevitably push that back even further.

Mr Yousaf, now First Minister, has this week given an assurance to MP Patricia Gibson and MSP Kenneth Gibson that Ardrossan will remain the primary port for the Arran route.

But Mr Bourne added: "The current condition of the harbour infrastructure is precarious, with continued issues with the aging fendering, linkspan and passenger access gangway.

"That is a source of frequent periods of disruption, particularly in winter.

"The harbour infrastructure needs to be upgraded before it reaches life expiry. "

He continued: "The now expanded scope of works at Ardrossan is in part driven by the design of MV Glen Sannox being longer, wider and higher than the existing MV Caledonian Isles. 

"The berth requires substantial realignment to allow MV Glen Sannox to operate with a sufficiently wide wind range.

"Unsurprisingly, the cost for this project has ballooned over the years, with no agreement possible between the various stakeholders.

"If multiple smaller, lower windage, more efficient vessels had been designed, it is probable they would be in service by now, and the harbour would have required less extensive works."

Harbour owners Peel Ports told the Herald last month: "The ferry route we support from Ardrossan is a lifeline service for many and we share the frustration of the residents and businesses of Arran at this difficult situation.

"We’ll continue to work with Transport Scotland and others on the procurement of this complex and specialist engineering project."

Speaking for the ferry group, Mr Bourne concluded: "The crossing to Arran from Ardrossan is the shortest route option, with known onward transport connections and local services, and would offer the highest number and frequency of sailings to and from Arran. 

"Whatever the decision that is eventually made on Ardrossan Harbour, the one thing that Arran really needs is certainty in the future of our lifeline ferry service."

A motion put before Wednesday's North Ayrshire Council meeting asked that the authority "acknowledges the increase in building costs associated with this and other projects but does not accept that this constitutes grounds for changing the core decision [to keep Ardrossan as the route's mainland port]".