Transport Scotland has just published the Vessel Replacement and Deployment Plan created by the triumvirate of itself, the asset holder, CMAL [Caledonian Maaritie Assets Limited] and the operator, CalMac Ferries Limited – which has led the definition of the future fleet.
This outlines the future make-up of the ferry fleet serving the Clyde and Hebridean ferry services network.
A first reading of the full plan reveals the following sentence – on Page 5 at Point 6: ‘The two ‘pilot’ services will continue as is.’
The continuation of the Mallaig-Lochboisdale pilot as a committed service has already been announced, Nothing has yet been said about the Ardrossan-Campbeltown pilot – but this commitment in the published plan is the news Kintyre has been wanting to hear.
Transport Minister, Derek Mackay, says: ‘This plan, agreed between the Scottish Government, CalMac Ferries Ltd and Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd, outlines the measures we aim to take collectively to meet increasing demands on these lifeline services, as well as looking at how and when to introduce new vessels in place of some of the older ones.
‘It also looks at how we will manage increasing demand from the introduction of Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) across the network, which gives island residents and visitors access to significantly reduced fares.
‘While many of these measures will be implemented over the longer term as funding becomes available, we have already started putting this plan into action with the commissioning by CMAL of the two new 100m vessels that are destined initially for the Ardrossan-Brodick and Uig Triangle routes.’
Transport Scotland published Scottish Ferry Services: Ferries Plan [2013-2022] in December 2012 as a basis for the shape of all of Scotland’s ferry services until 2022 and it underpins the development of the VRDP as it applies to the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services network. The VRDP is intended to complement the Ferries Plan by also considering historical and projected customer demand and the on-going provision of capacity to meet that demand.
For Argyll is currently engaged in a close analysis of the full plan but from a preliminary reading of it, there is a sense – as with Transport Scotland’s Roads ‘policy’ – that future planning is less planning for future demand than planning for the future deliverability of current demand.
The strategy for the future appears to be to commission major units for the offshore routes, which will require substantial infrastructural revision at the ports and harbours concerned.
Another issue here is that these larger and much more fuel hungry vessels – and especially as the price of oil rises, which it will have done before they are built and in service – could not, with financial responsibility, be deployed to deliver the service frequencies that are a repeated demand from the islands.
The future formula for the offshore routes appears to be much bigger vessels – of the MV Loch Seaforth scale – shifting larger volumes.
Given that these future ships will operate out of purpose-upgraded ports and habours, the combination of better all-weather berthing and large ships capable of dealing with all weathers should see much greater service reliability – which for the outer isles, is a serious boon.
It is clear from the plan that the two new 100m vessels currently in the process of being contracted to Ferguson Marine, are a makeshift answer to the absolute lack of forward planning which is very belatedly now being addressed.
They will clearly be an interim measure to soak up increasing demand as best they can for the time being – and the full introduction of Road Equivalent Tariff [RET] fares this month is expected to see seasonal demand rise substantially.
When the future vessels are commissioned and in service. these two vessels will clearly be cascaded down the network, improving capacity to other routes. When further planned capacity is provided for Arran in the future, the 100 metre vessel for Arran is already designated to move to the Islay route – which will require ‘the Islay berths’ to be extended.
When the new 100 metre vessel designated for the Uig Triangle arrives in service, the plan was to move the MV Hebrides to act as second vessel on the Oban route. The plan notes that conversations with Argyll and Bute Council on the necessary development of the berth at Craignure indicate that this deployment is unlikely to be achievable in the short term.
CalMac are said already to have a vessel deployment plan for Summer 2016, which will add capacity to the Mull route in the meantime.
We have already noted contradictions in the plan, one of which is of concern. The report admits that there is no existing data for unsatisfied demand only for satisfied demand; and mentions ongoing consideration of methods that night be implemented for the reliable measurement of unsatisfied demand.
Yet the plan declares: ‘Demand in excess of 70% of the available weekly capacity is unsatisfied’. This is in a list of factors described as ‘assumptions’ on which the planning has been based. Assuming a figure ‘in excess of 70%’ for unsatisfied weekly demand – when there is admittedly no data on which to assess such demand, is one mighty assumption. The scale of this indiscriminate assertion has to be a matter of concern in the insight it provides into the security of this future planning.
For Argyll will publish its full analysis of the plan when it is complete.
- A two page summary of the plan is available online here.
- The full plan is available here, running under the disguise of Annual Report 2014.