Pier problems at Helensburgh set to impact Waverley visits

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The scale of work required to allow the historic paddle steamer Waverley to return to Helensburgh pier is still not clear – nearly five months after the facility was closed on safety grounds.

A senior Argyll and Bute Council official told the area’s harbour board last week that ‘some work’ would be required to the council-owned pier to allow the vessel to visit again in future – but admitted that the authority did not yet know what that work would involve.

Stewart Clark, marine operations manager for the council, also conceded that a specialist report on the timber structure, which was expected last month, may not now arrive until the end of March.

The news came during a verbal update on the pier’s condition at a meeting of the harbour board on March 7.

The pier was closed to all marine traffic last October after an inspection raised concerns over the safety of the structure.

Councillors now fear a race against time to bring the Waverley to Helensburgh during her main summer season, and called for greater clarity on the situation.

The Waverley’s owners have already confirmed the famous vessel will not call at Helensburgh as part of its late May bank holiday timetable, instead using Kilcreggan as a stop on two of the five days.

Mr Clark said: ‘We have carried out various on-site inspections and run through an inspection of the timber structure with a specialist consultant who took samples of the timber.

‘A structure analysis is ongoing at the moment. We had hoped it would be complete by now, but now have a completion date of the end of March at the latest.

‘We have been in touch with the Waverley. They have put out an early spring timetable which does not include Helensburgh, but are awaiting updates from ourselves before they publish their summer timetable.

‘We still have the option of being able to open the pier for the Waverley if works required are minimal. So we are hedging our bets a bit on the outcome and no decisions are being made at the moment.

‘But we have to look at this realistically and once we know the outcome of the analysis, we will know what is required. We have to face up to it that work is likely to be needed.’

Councillor Ellen Morton, chair of the authority’s Helensburgh and Lomond area committee and vice-chair of the harbour board, said: ‘It is a big issue for Helensburgh. It is an iconic tradition and part of Helensburgh’s summer history. I would love to see Helensburgh pier being used – it would be terrible for us if it ends up out of action.’

But she added: ‘Helensburgh pier does not bring in any money and the only vehicle to use it is the Waverley, which does not get charged berthing fees.

‘More clarity is needed and the more positive clarity the better.’

A spokesperson for Waverley Excursions Ltd said last week: ‘Waverley Excursions Ltd, which operates Paddle Steamer Waverley, is committed to sailing Waverley from Helensburgh pier and appreciates the support Helensburgh locals and visitors have shown to the ship over many years.

‘We welcome the steps being taken by Argyll and Bute Council to investigate the current structural integrity of the pier and identify works required to ensure that Waverley can call at Helensburgh during her main summer season.

‘While we await works on Helensburgh pier we have included additional calls at Kilcreggan during our May bank holiday sailings.’