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Jackie Baillie, Labour MSP for Dumbarton is working to get SPT’s decision to axe the Helensburgh element of the Seabus service to Kilcreggan and on to Gourock in Inverclyde.
Stuart McMilllan MSP has confirmed his support for Jackie Baillie’s parliamentary notion on the matter.
In the meantime we have permission to print, without identifying the senders, a series of interesting emails Jackie Baillie has had from constituents on this matter.
Email exchanges on the SPT decision and on the service
(Editor’s Note: We have arranged these in chronoligical order from the earliest directly below to the latest at the foot. They are well informed, active and carry a range of ideas, approaches and perspectives well worth reading – and well worth serious immediate attention by Argyll and Bute Council and by SPT .)
‘I am emailing following a conversation with Councillor David Wilson and having just read an article which states the SPT are proposing changes to the Gourock/Kilcregan/Helensburgh Route. I am absolutely appalled at this recommendation, as this is a route I use frequently in the summer months and also in winter. I shall endeavour to contact you by telephone, however wished to email the main issues that I have with the impending decision.
‘Withdrawal of services to Helensburgh
‘I appreciate this service statistically has low passenger numbers, however the fact that over 90 sailing every year are cancelled because of tidal conditions distorts the truth. Had SPT along with the relevant authorities invested in Helensburgh pier, then passenger numbers would increase significantly once a reliable service was
reinstated. As it stands, the route has become a self fulfilling prophecy for low passenger numbers. It is due to this that I believe SPT are making the wrong decision in stopping all Helensburgh sailings. If SPT insist on cancelling the Helensburgh saillings, a caveat must be added to allow review of this service once the pier has been upgraded at regular intervals. It must be noted that if SPT withdraw from the route, and only Waverley is left, it may be hard to justify any further investment in the pier.
‘This service is invaluable and withdrawing it removes a vital link between two sides of the Clyde.. It will impact me personally as during the summer, I often take the ferry to Kilcreggan, cycle to Helensburgh and catch the last ferry back to Gourock. I also use it to connect with trains on the West Highland line, taking the short walk up the hill to Helensburgh Upper. This is a much cheaper and easier option than travelling to Glasgow.
‘Withdrawal of Sunday Services
‘This I simply cannot understand. This route is used by tourist, leisure customers and inhabitants of Kilcreggan. I cannot understand why this service is being reduced, when there has been no formal consultation with any users.
‘Reduction of capacity of ferry
‘This is an extremely short sighted recommendation. Larger ferries are not simply about passenger numbers – they re also more stable and robust in poor weather. Seabus has proved itself to be a very robust vessel in my experience and a smaller vessel would cause me great concern. One only needs to look at the state of Argyll Ferries after they downsized. If you downsize this route, there is a real risk that service will be further eroded during poor weather, showing reduced passenger numbers, and ultimately providing a possible reason to withdraw the service altogether.
I also wish to express my concern regarding comments that the preferred bidder will supply a new boat for the route. Given that the contract is due to commence in 3 months time, it is an impossibility for a new boat to be built, without trying to understand how a company could afford to fund given the tiny amount of the contract value. I fear the fact is that there will be no new boat, and Clyde ferry users will, yet again, be presented with inadequate, second hand boats that are not equipped to handle the route. Should SPT proceed with this option, they risk a serious amount of negative publicity should they contractor not deliver – i need hardly remind you of the swamped Renfrew Ferry or the serious issues with the Argyll Ferries in poor weather.
‘Given the consultation for this was low key, or indeed non-existent, I am therefore requesting that this decision is postponed until a public consultation is held in the communities affected by this, mainly Gourock, Kilcreggan and Helensburgh.
‘I would appreciate a speedy response to this matter, given the very short timescales we are dealing with. Please do not hesitate to contact me by phone on the number below.’
‘ I fully agree with Mr Blacks assertions here. We should do everything possible to maintain and enhance this service.
On the one hand we’ve fought ,bit and scatched to get the money for Gourock development, sweet talked Network Rail into providing 5.5 million for the station and just when things are looking good SPT decide to axe a link which would undoubtedly prove to be a tourist attraction, especially in the summer if it were marketed properly.
It’s a service which if emphasised the rail link from Helensburgh north, would be successful. And the decision to axe Sunday sailing is shocking. Our pier here is now sound and we should be encouraging river ferry traffic not the opposite.’
‘ In a survey last summer the average number of passengers at Helensburgh was 2.6 , YES 2.6 ! SPT have had marketing campaigns to no avail. Numbers per annum have dropped from 70k in 2008 to 60k in 2011.
The pier at Helensburgh is the responsibility of Argyll Council and it is up to them to improve it. Mr Black makes the point that 90 sailings per year have had to be cancelled .
Gourock -Kilcreggan is a vital link for Inverclyde workers at Coulport and Faslane and I can assure you that some in other councils have had their eyes on the £350k per annum subsidy.
I am comfortable about the Helensburgh leg going as it is frankly unsustainable in passenger or financial criteria.
I will argue for the sunday service .
If Regeneration committee wants to come up with a subsidy ot £40 per passenger to and from Helensburgh then I would suggest that the taxpayers alliance might have something to say about it.’
‘If 60k passengers used the service last year then it must be worth saving. However I do take your point about subsidy.
My deliberations are based on the following -
I do not believe the Gourock – Helensburgh route has been marketed appropriately.
Our shiny new station and reinforced sea wall will create future traveller potential.
Not enough is being made of the rail link at Helensburgh….which can be accessed via a sail from Gourock.
As a minimum would it be possible to continue summer sailings to assess these points moving forward?’
‘I fully agree with xxxxxx’s suggestion – the Helensburgh service should be given a reprieve for 2012 and a strategic review of the Helensburgh service carried out. The current timetable for Helensburgh, esp during winter, is frankly hopeless and does not encourage return travel. A mid-morning sailing and a mid-afternoon sailling coupled with the 180 cancellations a year (90 is only departures – inbound are also cancelled) mean this route is unattractive.
‘However, with a full timetable review, coupled with engagement with Helensburgh Pier redevelopment plans, I believe there is a future for this route, ideally on a trial basis starting next year to avoid long term commitment. Gourock is leading the way with it’s redevelopment – let’s not make cuts before upgraded supporting infrastructure is in place on both sides of the water.’
‘Jamie. Decent suggestion, but at 2.6 passengers per sailing at Helensburgh and 180 cancellations at the pier at Helensburgh the situation is critical.
I believe we must wait for Argyll to sort out the pier.
The current Kilcreggan-Helensburgh service is frankly not fit for service for operational and financial reasons. A £40 subsidy per passenger is not sustainable.’