MSPs have been told no decision has been taken by ministers on whether Ardrossan harbour will EVER be used by Arran's two delayed and over-budget ferries.

Transport Secretary Mairi McAllan told the net zero, energy and transport committee at Holyrood that ministers were still working to complete a business case review for essential repair works to the harbour.

The project was green-lit in 2017 by then transport minister, and now First Minister, Humza Yousaf.

In September Mr Yousaf re-stated his commitment to keeping Ardrossan as the mainland terminal for the Arran service.

That pledge came a month after government officials announced that they would be carrying out a review of the business case for the project, amid mounting concern at rising costs.

Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald:

READ MORE: Ayrshire MSP raises 'real concern' at Holyrood amid fears Ardrossan ferry service will be permanently lost to Troon

That review was initially due to be completed by the end of November, but will not now be ready until February.

The Ardrossan terminal requires a major upgrade, including a costly berth realignment, to accommodate the two ships - MVs Glen Sannox and Glen Rosa - which will serve the Arran route when their construction is finally completed by the under-fire Ferguson Marine shipyard in Port Glasgow.

The Glen Sannox is expected to be ready this spring, with its sister vessel not likely to be delivered until May 2025.

The ships will operate between Brodick and Troon until at least 2026, when the repairs at Ardrossan were initially expected to be completed.

Ms McAllan said the “complexities” involved further discussions with funding partners – including North Ayrshire Council and Peel Ports – and their “levels of contribution” to the improvement works.

Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald:

Scottish Conservative transport spokesman Graham Simpson asked whether ministers have considered the possibility that Ardrossan may not be used for the new ferries at all.

Ms McAllan responded: “Absolutely no decision has been taken on that. It would be wrong of me to pre-empt the work of the taskforce and the business case review.”

Mr Simpson said: “No decision, therefore it’s a possibility?”

Ms McAllan replied: “There’s no decision. That’s all I can say.”

READ MORE: Politicians say Ardrossan 'must remain' mainland port for Arran ferry

Earlier in the session, Ms McAllan was asked if the remedial works at Ardrossan harbour had been accounted for in the Scottish Government's 2024-25 budget.

Committee convener Edward Mountain also highlighted the recent issues with the Irish berth at the harbour, which has been closed to all traffic on safety grounds since January 18 after a dive inspection revealed concerns at the condition of the structure.

Peel Ports said last week that it hoped to have more information by the end of this month to enable it to reach a decision on returning the berth to operation. 

The problems with the berth led CalMac to introduce a freight-only service between Brodick and Troon on January 30, using MV Alfred, the catamaran which the ferry operator is currently chartering from private firm Pentland Ferries.

The Irish berth is the only one at Ardrossan which MV Alfred is able to use.

Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald: MV Alfred is now operating a freight-only service between Troon and Brodick following the closure of Ardrossan harbour's 'Irish berth'MV Alfred is now operating a freight-only service between Troon and Brodick following the closure of Ardrossan harbour's 'Irish berth' (Image: Charlie Gilmour)

Arran's ferry problems are being compounded by the news that the route's regular ferry, MV Caledonian Isles, will not return to service until early March - more than a month later than scheduled - because of the need to carry out additional repairs on the 30-year-old ship.

READ MORE: MSPs hit out at 'grim news' over closure of 'Irish berth' at Ardrossan harbour

The Tory MSP said: “Ardrossan harbour is obviously a problem area because the pier has collapsed, and for the Glen Sannox and 802 [Glen Rosa] to use the harbour we need an LNG tank and an extension to the quay because it is too short.

“Is that all in the budget, and will it all be done during the course of this year before the Glen Sannox comes into service?”

Ms McAllan said: “I understand the need to progress, and I understand the frustration of the communities, but on the other hand it’s absolutely essential that works of this size and importance are properly scoped and properly understood.”

Alison Irvine, chief executive of Transport Scotland, told the committee that “sufficient funds” had been earmarked only for the “consideration of the business case” at Ardrossan.

Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald: MV Isle of Arran is currently the only ferry sailing between Ardrossan and BrodickMV Isle of Arran is currently the only ferry sailing between Ardrossan and Brodick (Image: Contributed)

Mr Mountain replied: “My mouth is just sort of recovering from dropping on to the table. I can’t believe we ordered these ferries in 2015 and we are 2024, a long way down the line, and we’re still talking about a business case for the improvements to the port where they will be used.

"I’m completely shell-shocked.”