4 ANALYSIS OF PROBLEMS, OPPORTUNITIES AND CONSTRAINTS
4.1. This Chapter builds upon the description of the current position at Chapter 3 and the research methods set out in Chapter 2 to present an analysis of problems, opportunities and constraints. Actual and perceived problems, and opportunities, underpin the development of transport objectives and options in STAG.
4.2. As noted earlier in the report, the analysis is based on the research conducted before March 2013: that is, before the short-term service enhancements to the vehicle ferry service were introduced.
4.3. There is a lack of financial sustainability of the two main existing services. For the vehicle ferry service it is not possible to provide a fully commercial service with a timetable that meets customers' needs or allow upgrades to the existing piers, slipways and other shore infrastructure. It is Transport Scotland's understanding that the Kerrera Ferry Limited service is now only likely to continue with public funding.
4.4. The marina see their current service as financially unsustainable. The operating costs greatly exceed fare income and they believe that charging all passengers would be damaging for their business. However, it is Transport Scotland's understanding that the marina would, regardless of any publicly funded service, continue to operate a free passenger only service for their customers. They would be free to make the service more widely available to other visitors and to residents. However, this position could change if, in time, a different company took over the marina, or if there ceased to be a marina on Kerrera.
4.5. The other key problem is the lack of a north-south road on the island. This leads to three ferry services being required to serve an island of less than 50 people, with very limited vehicle ferry access for those living in the north.
4.6. It also severely limits the interaction between residents in the north and south. Most islanders raised their concerns about a lack of community cohesion due to the lack of a road. It was felt that many tensions arose through the lack of assured access, perhaps crossing various landowners' land on occasion, which had a detrimental impact upon community togetherness and quality of life. Some respondents highlighted damage that had been caused to the existing route(s) between the north and south end of the island, which at present pass through various land owners' and Estate fields.
4.7. The lack of a road also means that visitors have to choose between visiting one part of the island or the other-rather than making a trip which can cover the whole of Kerrera.
4.8. Effectively the island is almost two separate islands, and each one has developed separately. It was felt that the lack of a road meant that the island was not socially "united", as well as constraining business and employment opportunities.
4.9. The majority of islanders we consulted were in favour of developing a link road. They all felt that a forest grade road would be appropriate.
4.10. It was generally viewed that the ferry timetables do not meet customer needs. It was stated that neither the marina nor the vehicle ferry service provides an early enough departure for commuters. This was particularly the case for accessing employment in the tourism sector, which provides many of the jobs opportunities in the Oban area.
4.11. Due to their relatively late start the first ferry services in the morning do not allow a connection with the first train or bus to Glasgow. Also the vehicle ferry service no longer connects with a local bus service at the Gallanach slip.
4.12. The short length of operating day was also reported as limiting opportunities to participate in social, leisure and educational activities in the evenings. It can also necessitate nights away from home before and after hospital appointments. One respondent reported that to make on average four medical appointments (day cases) in Glasgow each year, they had to spend in total a fortnight away from home. This is not only an inconvenience for the patient. It is an additional cost to the NHS.
4.13. A number of residents reported that they would like to be able to attend a church service on the mainland. However, this is not possible as the first Sunday vehicle ferry does not sail until 10.30.
4.14. These issues reflect the very limited facilities on the island and the high degree of dependence on the mainland (and Oban in particular) for access to services and activities.
4.15. Residents generally felt that later ferry services would help to encourage younger people and families to move to or stay on the island, through allowing access to a range of activities.
4.16. In the summer the marina runs later crossings at the north end, but not in the winter. Residents see a marked difference between the winter and summer timetables. This also reflects reduced sailing frequency in the winter when there can be a wait of up to two hours to get back to the island.
4.17. The majority of residents reported that the length of operating day was the main problem with existing ferry provision. However, a small number took a different view. They did not feel that later services were vital, and that the number of people on Kerrera did not perhaps justify a long operating day. Rather, they felt that the focus should be on enabling people to use their own boats by providing landing stages on both sides of the water.
4.18. The two ferry services do not provide assured, consistent or equitable access. On the vehicle ferry individual residents are charged differing rates for services or not provided with same level of service.
4.19. It was stated that the lack of regular freight provision to the north end of the island has the potential to negatively impact on animal welfare as the delivery of feed and movement of animals cannot be guaranteed. The high cost of moving freight to/from the north end was also highlighted.
4.20. The view was expressed that there is significant variance in the charges for charter sailings and for moving goods and vehicles on the vehicle ferry. There was a general consensus concern that charging could be subject to change, which presented challenges for household or business budgeting. The majority were concerned about the lack of a published freight tariff, given that all residents rely on the vehicle ferry to bring goods to the islands.
4.21. As the vehicle ferry is operated by an individual, there is no guaranteed service provision in case of illness or holiday. In addition, as a single handed operation there is no guaranteed emergency provision outside normal operating times.
4.22. Residents nearest the north end of the island value the marina service. They stressed their dependency on it given the lack of road access to the vehicle ferry. In the winter these residents' access to the mainland is dependent on demand from the marina's own customers-apart from the guaranteed first and last sailings of the day. A small number of residents reported occasional cases when some have been refused travel.
4.23. Residents' continuing access to the service is dependent on the marina's decisions and its continuing viability as a business. There is concern that current arrangements (including not having to pay fares) could change in the future, including if the service is not given short-term grant support by Transport Scotland.
4.24. The marina themselves see their future as a business as dependent on the outcome of the current proposal for a transit marina in Oban Bay. If that goes ahead, then they may review their current ferry service provision and general investment in the business. If the marina was sold to another business then it may no longer provide a ferry for use by residents or general visitors to the island.
4.25. A number of consultees felt that island businesses could not be developed because there was a lack of assurance that their ferry access to Oban would continue. Even at present, some are reluctant to promote the service to potential visitors. It can be very busy in the summer and there can be delays in getting across to the island, and the marina is under no obligation to carry non-marina/non-resident passengers.
4.26. The (very) tidal nature of the slipway on Kerrera that can be used by the vehicle ferry was felt to be a barrier. Some consultees highlighted safety issues for passengers at low tides, through having to jump onto the ferry. There was reference to one recent incident where a resident passenger had fallen in the water upon getting off the ferry.
4.27. The tidal restrictions cause significant complications for those moving livestock. There is a need to coordinate (and be, and expect others to be, very flexible) between ferry operator, livestock haulier on the mainland and farmer. Because livestock cannot be loaded at all states of tide, they have to be held in trailers/pens for excessive periods of time. Therefore, they do not reach the market in prime condition and are likely to achieve a lower sale price.
4.28. The restrictions are also seen as adding cost and complexity for those employing a mainland contractor to undertake building work. The contractor cannot easily bring plant and materials backwards and forward. It was reported that this can make it difficult to get mainland companies to do work on Kerrera.
4.29. The tidal nature of access was also seen as leading to a lack of resilience in emergency responses on the island. It is not possible to get an emergency vehicle onto the island except at high states of the tide, and the same constraint also affects the lifeboat. This means that ambulance patients have to be lifted onto and off the ferry (or another boat) to be evacuated from Kerrera.
4.30. A number of consultees referred to the limited vehicle carrying capacity on the current vehicle ferry. This can present difficulties for the movement of large loads which have to be broken down across a number of ferry journeys. Overall, this issue was not seen as being as big a problem as the tidal nature of the slipway. Nevertheless, some consultees felt it was discouraging existing or potential new residents from setting up their own small-scale business on the island.
4.31. A number of residents identified the lack of a communication system for alerting travellers about changes or disruption to the vehicle ferry service. It can mean they are stranded or have to spend significant time awaiting a ferry at Gallanach which was not going to sail.
4.32. Despite the very short vehicle ferry crossing several residents reported that the on-board passenger accommodation makes the journey particularly uncomfortable in inclement weather. The only accommodation is the wheelhouse (which is a small space). It can accommodate two to three (standing) passengers in addition to the skipper, but in very close proximity. The lack of suitable passenger accommodation for anyone with reduced mobility was also highlighted.
4.33. Issues were also raised about poor access to the ferry services from the shore facilities that they use. Some respondents reported issues in boarding and disembarking the marina ferries at both ends of the journey.
4.34. Others consider the slipways used by the vehicle ferry service as unsafe. This was attributed to a lack of lighting (particularly an issue in winter), that they often become slippery, and that there is no life-ring at the pier. The quality of the shore infrastructure and its tidal nature were cited by some as the reason why parents would not want their children to travel to school via the vehicle ferry.
4.35. Some felt that the current shore infrastructure would make it increasingly difficult to provide a reliable service in the winter. A more general issue is the lack of shelters for passengers waiting for the ferry.
4.36. Many residents in the south end of the island highlighted the poor standard of the existing road. This is seen as having a detrimental impact on accessibility, reducing vehicles' lifespan and significantly increasing journey times.
4.37. A number of residents highlighted the extra personal expense of having to have their own boat, in addition to a car on the mainland and a vehicle on the island. They feel that each of these is required to be able to commute to work in Oban and make other trips.
4.38. There were also references to a lack of adequate car parking spaces at Gallanach during the peak visitor months of July and August. There were also references to a lack of parking within Oban for those using the marina service, with options of either paying what was felt to be excessive charges for parking close to the ferry or having to park at a significant distance away from the ferry for free.
4.39. Almost all consultees believe that there are sustainable development opportunities for Kerrera. This is because its highly distinctive nature could attract new residents and visitors-and related economic activity.
4.40. There was a general view that development should be at a level where Kerrera would retain its distinctive sense of place. The vision underpinning the Kerrera Community Development Plan encapsulates this:
"A thriving and economically viable community sustaining a high quality of life for us all whilst safeguarding our unique and remarkable environment"
4.41. All consultees would agree with that. However, there were differing views (largely between residents and non-residents) on the extent of development that could take place while still achieving the vision. Some consultees felt that there was scope for more development than most residents-particularly those outside the north end-would see as commensurate with the Development Plan's vision. This relates, in particular, to the amount and nature of housing development and the scale of increase in visitor numbers.
4.42. Without a certain level of development proceeding, Argyll and Bute Council felt that public sector investment (and a link road in particular) would be difficult to justify. Thus, while the vision is shared, views on the means of best achieving it differ.
4.43. With a low-albeit stable-population, Kerrera would benefit from an increase in population. There is a reasonable age balance at present. Yet with such a low population it would be more beneficial if those attracted to the island were economically active and, perhaps, also had children with them. This would have the benefit of providing more people to participate in community activities and help avoid excessive "volunteer fatigue".
4.44. The general view was that population growth should be "modest". The Development Plan, for example, refers to a medium term target to increase the current population by 30%; with in the much longer term a population of 60 people being sought.
4.45. This would require suitable housing to be provided. The provision of four housing units is one of the medium term targets in the Development Plan. The Council were of the view that there is also potential to build a number of holiday homes.
4.46. The main avenue for medium term development is tourism. This potential reflects both Kerrera's distinctive nature and its proximity to the major tourism hub that is Oban. A number of consultees noted that the tourism offering in Oban is limited by a lack of space for outdoor activities and its limited visitor offering (concentration on shops and restaurants).
4.47. Kerrera's potential is evident in Stramash's plans to develop a full outdoor residential centre (16-20 beds). This would lead to an increase in the number of visitors they bring to the island.
4.48. Many residents believe that growth in visitor numbers should be "modest" and that the exclusion of visitor cars should continue.
4.49. The key is that the island should increase the economic benefits of visitors through providing more or better spending opportunities (e.g. accommodation, food and drink). This would include through developing custom at the marina as well from those visiting for walking and other outdoor activities.
4.50. This would be facilitated by a north-south road. It would open up all rather than one part of the island to visitors, which could well encourage them to stay longer. In particular the island as a whole could benefit from the overall number of visitors that the marina generates.
4.51. However, this would require thought about how visitors would travel on the island if they are not able to bring their own transport. Further, there would need to be consideration of how the island is promoted to visitors (notably those in Oban) and improving some of the island's basic infrastructure (e.g. information/orientation on walks that can be undertaken).This chimes with the Development Plan's medium term target to "make Kerrera a quality tourist destination and improve visitor satisfaction"
4.52. The second main area of development potential is the establishment of one person or small scale businesses on the island, beyond those in tourism. This could be by existing or new residents. A range of services (e.g. ICT, construction) plus micro-scale food and drink production is possible given the proximity to Oban. It also offers the potential to increase the island's number of economically active residents.
4.53. Importantly this would broaden the island's economic base. This is currently exposed to downturns in tourism or agriculture. For the latter, the aspiration appears to be to maintain rather than increase farming activity.
4.54. While we have termed the following "constraints" on the development of ferry access to Kerrera they are perhaps better viewed as parameters within which a long term solution would operate. They are that Transport Scotland:
- See a north-south road link on Kerrera as a prerequisite to a long term solution to ferry service provision that meets the needs of the whole island.
- Will provide financial support for only one ferry service to the island.
- In line with the National Ferries Plan, are minded to strengthen and augment an existing route, rather than start up a new route.
- In the longer term, will financially support a service only if its fares are RET-based and the timetable reflects the Scottish Ferries Review methodology.
4.55. A further, and community derived, parameter is that the practice should continue that only residents are able to have a car on the island.
4.56. A range of problems have been identified. Six of them are most significant:
1. Lack of financial sustainability of the two main ferry services. This places doubt over ferry access in the medium term.
2. Lack of a north-south road. One of the main impacts is that three ferry services are operated for what is a very low level of population-yet there is still general dissatisfaction with what is provided. Kerrera is effectively divided into two islands. This exacerbates community divisions. It also constrains the economic benefit of tourism because one part of the island is unable to benefit from the visitors attracted to the other e.g. the castle and the marina each attract visitors at either end of the island but they cannot currently easily visit both.
3. The ferry timetables do not meet customer needs. They limit the types of jobs that commuters can undertake, require some residents to own a boat, and limit access to social and leisure activities. They also lead to some poor integration with mainland public transport.
4. Current ferry access is largely not assured, consistent or equitable. This constrains business development and performance, and causes ill-feeling and social disharmony.
5. The (very) tidal nature of the vehicle ferry slipway leads to inefficiencies in transporting goods and vehicles, reduces the resilience of emergency responses and limits the ability to develop a timetable more suited to users' needs.
6. Limited vehicle carrying capacity of the vehicle ferry. This means that certain types of vehicle cannot travel to the island. It results in time consuming, inefficient transhipment of goods and livestock and potentially discourages the establishment of new small scale businesses on the island.
4.57. There is a consensus around the main development opportunities for Kerrera, and on the potential to expand the resident population. However, there are differing views about the scale of development that is possible without changing the distinctive nature of the island. There is consensus that continuing to limit visitor car access to the island contributes positively to the distinctive nature of the island.
4.58. Proximity to Oban offers the opportunity to attract more visitors. However, this would require an overall strategy to manage the process and maximise its economic benefits. In turn, this will have benefits for Oban itself by making it a more attractive destination. Proximity to Oban also offers opportunities to establish new businesses on the island outside of the tourism sector.
4.59. There are parameters within which Transport Scotland will financially support a long-term solution to ferry provision. These need to be taken into account in assessing the options that are developed in the following Chapters.