THE operators of the iconic paddle steamer Waverley are not giving up hope of the vessel visiting Argyll and Bute this year – but Helensburgh won’t be on the famous ship’s itinerary.

Waverley Excursions Ltd (WEL) has yet to release its timetable for 2020, or to allow potential customers to buy tickets in advance, due to the uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

But if sailings do prove to be possible at some point this summer, WEL plans to provide additional stops at Kilcreggan pier – with a shuttle bus service operating between there and Helensburgh.

The pier at Helensburgh, which is owned by Argyll and Bute Council, has been closed to all marine traffic since October 2018 due to concerns over its condition.

Talks have been held with the Helensburgh Seafront Development Project, a group of community volunteers, over the pier’s long-term future.

READ MORE: Helensburgh pier fight 'must be more aggressive', say campaigners

WEL had planned to substitute Kilcreggan calls for Helensburgh ones in 2019 before problems with the Waverley’s boilers forced the cancellation of its entire sailing programme last year.

A spokesperson for Waverley Excursions Ltd said: “We have not yet published Waverley’s 2020 sailing programme given the uncertainty due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The ship is currently berthed in James Watt Dock, Greenock and now has her two new boilers in place.

“We are keeping plans for 2020 under constant review and waiting to see how and when government guidance evolves.

“Helensburgh pier remains closed to Waverley, but we plan to increase sailings from Kilcreggan, and operate a coach connection for Helensburgh passengers to join Waverley at Kilcreggan.

“We welcome all efforts to repair Helensburgh pier and allow Waverley to return to the town at the earliest opportunity.

“Progress to complete the boiler refit will be dependent on changes to the restrictions imposed to control the pandemic.

“What is certain, with her two new boilers, new generators and new switchboards now in place, and her annual dry-docking now complete – Waverley will steam again.”

READ MORE: Plans lodged for repairs to Helensburgh's pier

The announcement that Waverley would not call at Helensburgh during 2019 prompted a public show of support from hundreds of the town’s residents and from MSPs Jackie Baillie and Maurice Corry.

But within weeks of a demonstration on the pier in April of last year, WEL announced the cancellation of the ship’s entire 2019 schedule after it was realised the ship’s boilers would need replaced at a cost of around £2 million.

A report which went before the Argyll and Bute Harbour Board at its last meeting on Thursday, March 5, said: “Funding has been allocated from the Town Centre Fund to make the pier safer for pedestrian use, given that the pier is, for the time being, not functioning as a vessel berthing facility.

“At the time of writing this report, tenders for the work had been returned. A verbal update will be provided at the next harbour board meeting.”

The harbour board’s next meeting is scheduled for Thursday, September 10, although the Covid-19 pandemic may affect this. Helensburgh and Lomond Councillors Ellen Morton and Richard Trail are on the board.

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