The mainland port for the Arran ferry should remain at Ardrossan in North Ayrshire, a report has recommended.
A transport expert examined whether the mainland port for the island‘s ferry service be switched to Troon in South Ayrshire.
The report was commissioned after Associated British Ports (ABP) put a bid in to change the existing link.
Ministers have asked for responses to the report, but noted that it supported the port remaining at Ardrossan.
The expert report follows a study which looked at the two options objectively.
The Scottish government said it would not make a final decision until it had received responses to this latest report from the relevant parties. They have 14 days to respond.
‘Fastest and cheapest‘
The Minister for Transport and the Islands Humza Yousaf said: “We have looked at the options under four broad pillars: connectivity, reliability, overall cost to the public purse and socio-economic considerations.
“At this stage, the report supports the view that the mainland port for the ferry serving Brodick and Campbeltown should remain at Ardrossan. However, before any decision is made, Ministers wish to offer an opportunity for representations in light of the report.
“This invitation is being issued to Associated British Ports at Troon, Peel Ports at Ardrossan, Argyll & Bute Council, North Ayrshire Council and South Ayrshire Council.”
Joe Cullinane, leader of North Ayrshire Council, said: “Ardrossan is the shortest, fastest and cheapest route for the Arran ferry and has better transport connectivity.
“The socio-economic case for Ardrossan is undeniable and the report confirms this too.
He added: “This has been a long process. It has been almost six months of uncertainty for people on both sides of the ferry service and I am glad we are nearing a conclusion.”
Investment plans were drawn up for Ardrossan Harbour in its bid to retain the year-round Arran ferry service.
The new proposals involve harbour owners Peel Ports investing in “significant infrastructure upgrades” at the site – including improvements to harbour walls, bollards, gantries, fenders and signage.
North Ayrshire Council is also to make improvements to the passenger terminal, roads, car park and connectivity with the town centre.
The council and Peel Ports said the “suite of integrated proposals” would significantly improve passenger and berthing facilities at Ardrossan for the new generation of ferries being introduced by Calmac in 2018.
Doug Coleman, from Peel Ports, said: “While we are taking nothing for granted, it‘s clear that the report has recognised the overwhelmingly convincing case for retaining the Arran ferry service on the shortest, fastest and cheapest route.
“If and when this recommendation is confirmed, we will very quickly begin the marine and infrastructure project to ensure the new maritime hub at Ardrossan is ready to welcome the new £48.5m vessel which will take over the route next year.”
Mr Coleman added that the company was “100% committed” to delivering £15m investment to improve the service.