CAMPAIGNERS fear plans for a new car ferry on the Gourock to Dunoon route could be sunk by harbour charges.

A pressure group says harbour fees have not been specified in tender documents for a new ferry to replace the existing passenger-only boats, which are unreliable in bad weather.

Ferry action group convener Susanna Rice says such charges make up 70 per cent of the operational cost of the route.

She said: “Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL), a public company answerable via Transport Scotland, owns Gourock and a vast range of harbours.

“It has introduced network harbour charges whereby busy ports with large vessels pay an inflated charge as a contribution to the cost of maintaining smaller harbours.

“A vehicle passenger ferry service has to pay considerably more as a contribution to maintain harbours. The Gourock to Dunoon service is a single route contract, and the busiest public ferry route in Scotland.

“The excessive harbour charge means private contractors are unlikely to submit a tender for a vehicle passenger service.”

She added: “The failure to specify harbour costs in the tender creates the impression that harbour authorities are free agents.

“This is clearly not the case with regard to Gourock.”

Ms Rice said Dunoon harbour is owned by Argyll and Bute Council, who will not agree their final charges until February – although the tender process for the route required potential bidders to identify themselves to Transport Scotland by last July.

She told the Telegraph: “It is difficult for us to understand how the tender process cannot be compromised when a major element of operational cost is left to one side and is still not determined.”

Transport Scotland today responded to the criticism from the group.

A spokesman said: “We will shortly announce the way forward, ensuring the continued provision of the Gourock to Dunoon ferry services from June 30, 2017.”

He added: “Harbour dues are a matter for the relevant harbour authorities, CMAL and Argyll & Bute Council.”