Ferry committee vows to keep fighting
Members of the public were afforded a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the Arran Ferry Committee on Monday night at their annual general meeting, which is their only gathering open to the public and not held behind closed doors.
Included on the agenda was the election of a representative for the Independent Traveller which was won, by ballot, by Neil Arthur, who has served in the role for three consecutive years.
Present at the meeting were chairman Iain Thomson, two representatives from CalMac, along with other representatives from Stagecoach, Arran Community Council, Arran Community Voluntary Services and VisitArran. Arran councillors Timothy Billings and Ellen McMaster and MSP Kenneth Gibson were also in attendance, as were about 30 members of the public and those representing their own interests.
Giving his report, chairman Iain Thomson said it had been busy year for the ferry committee, which had held 11 meetings, and brought all those in attendance up to speed on the recent developments within CMAL and CalMac and Transport Scotland. Chief among these were the Brodick ferry terminal, which has now been completed, and the Ardrossan harbour work, which has seen the plans finalised, but no timetable for the development proffered so far.
The chairman said the ferry committee would continue to lobby CMAL and Transport Scotland to extend their services on Arran and to address issues with capacity, timetables and to listen to their concerns regarding the age of the fleet.
Stating that their financial and economic case for an extension to the services on Arran which had been submitted to CMAL and Transport Scotland had fallen on deaf ears, and intimating frustration, Mr Thomson then spoke of the process which involves submitting a request to the organisations, only to have to wait three months to receive a reply.
Later the election of a representative for the Independent Traveller was held. Current post-holder Neil Arthur and John Ford, a member of the Lochranza and Catacol Committee, both stated their cases for being elected to the position.
Starting, Mr Ford, who mentioned his part in helping to establish the waiting room at Lochranza Terminal, said his motivation was to try to influence a better service, especially with regards to booking difficulties, which he had himself experienced when trying to attend mainland appointments. Mentioning the excellent work that the current incumbent had done, and which he aimed to live up to, he also added that he had the full support of the Lochranza and Catacol Committee behind him.
Mr Arthur, hoping to retain the position, outlined his use of the ferry since 1948 in various guises from being a lorry driver to a farm worker to a business owner. Stating that he was aware of the roles played by all involved and having a network of friends, colleagues and associates across the island, he was well known and well placed to represent the independent traveller. Listing his involvement in the Arran Community Council and on the Ferry Committee, he mentioned having contributed to meetings positively over the years. Neil Arthur concluded his motivations by saying that he took a sense of enjoyment from the role that he had played and which he hoped to continue. After a ballot, Neil Arthur was re-elected for the role.
In concluding, attendees were then invited to contribute by way of question or comment to the any other business item listed on the agenda.
A question raised by a member of the public regarding the synchronising of the ferry and bus service offered by Stagecoach was dealt with directly by a Stagecoach representative who spoke of the knockon effect of altering timetables and the limited resources that they had at their disposal. Pressed by further questioning on the topic, the Stagecoach representative made clear that the timetables were set by Strathclyde Partnership for Transport and that any request for alterations would need to be made by them.
Provoking a ripple of excitement in the meeting room at the Mountain Rescue Station, a member of the public, making mention of the numerous instances of stonewalling received by the committee and seeming ineffectual in his opinion, asked: ‘What is the use of this committee and why do you bother?’
Mr Thomson reminded the audience member that they did not have decision making power as they were a lobby group.
But Sheila Gilmore said the ferry committee had helped to see many changes to the ferry service in comparison to the service provided 20 years ago.
Kenneth Gibson MSP added his opinion to the assertion, citing an extension to the summer season sailings, new ferries and being a catalyst for change, as reasons, in part needing to be credited to the committee. Using the words ‘tremendous work’ and ‘invaluable’, he added that the committee had become a model for other ferry committees across the country.
Mr Thomson, having already spoken of their liaising with the NHS and mainland hospitals in streamlining the service to accommodate patients during his chairman’s report, added nothing further to the question.
Further questions regarding notices of assistance being available to additional needs passengers and the use of the Brodick terminal for bus passengers were dealt with swiftly by informing the inquisitor that assistance was available with a mention of this at various opportunities and that, the Brodick Ferry Terminal was a public area, with seats and toilets.
Neil Arthur has been re-elected as the Independent Traveller for the fourth consecutive year.