THE battle for control of one Scotland's most lucrative and historic ferry routes looks set to see the traditional crossing remain in place, it has emerged.
Ministers have written to both parties fighting for the right to host services to Arran, with Ardrossan recommended as the mainland port to serve the island.
Troon, 15 miles south along the Ayrshire coast, is also bidding to run the Arran ferry.
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The official government report assessing both cases names Ardrossan as the shortest, fastest and cheapest route, with the best mainland connections.
Announcing the news, the leader of North Ayrshire Council Joe Cullinane said the covering letter from transport minister Humza Yousaf "states at this stage the report supports the view that ferry should remain in Ardrossan".
The Labour authority boss, who has spearheaded the campaign to retain the Ardrossan to Brodick service, said the report also the 180-year-old route also presents the strongest socio-economic case.
Associated British Ports, which is behind the Troon bid, Ardrossan owners Peel Ports, as well as North and South Ayrshire and Argyll and Bute councils have 14 days to respond to the report before the winner is confirmed.
Transport Scotland said the report took into account “a broad range of factors including the impact on users in terms of travel time, fares, and connectivity, as well as reliability and the costs to the public purse”.
Mr 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 Campeltown should remain at Ardrossan. However, before any decision is made, ministers wish to offer an opportunity for representations in light of the report.
“The Scottish Government is committed to supporting our lifeline ferry links. This study will help support careful and robust decision-making towards ensuring that the Arran ferry service is fit for purpose, whilst also getting the best value for the public purse.”
Cllr Cullinane said: "The STAG report confirms what we knew all along, there is no case for moving our ferry service.
"It also blows apart the myth that Troon is a more reliable harbour, with the assessment clearly concluding that there is no measurable difference between the two on reliability.
"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.
"However, I am incredibly proud of how our community have united together to fight to retain the ferry service and I am sure this massive effort by so many individuals and groups will have played on the mind of the minister."
The at times bitter and bizarre battle for the route was sparked after APB lost a service to Northern Ireland from Troon and has promised to invest £8m if the Arran service is transferred to the mothballed port.
The battle has sparked claim and counter claim, with Ardrossan claim its bid could be delivered a year ahead of its rivals and a saving to the taxpayer of £160m-plus over 30 years.
ABP’s key pitch has been that Troon is more resistant to poor weather conditions, dismissing on occasion its rival's claims as "fake news".
North Ayrshire Council chief executive Elma Murray said: “It is great news for the people of Arran as well as those on the mainland.
“Our communities, on both sides of the crossing, have rallied around our campaign and I’m sure that their views had a real bearing on the findings of the report. I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to the communities of Arran and Ardrossan for their sustained commitment to the campaign.
“A positive result for the Ardrossan-Brodick crossing will mean that, alongside Peel Ports, we can begin the process of regenerating Ardrossan Harbour and the surrounding area, ultimately giving Arran ferry passengers the best service possible.”
Peel Ports propject director Doug Coleman added: “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.
“Together with our partners at North Ayrshire Council, we are 100 per cent committed to delivering the £15m investment which will improve the service and strengthen the local economies of Arran, Ardrossan and Kintyre for decades to come.”