Letters to the editor week 46

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What winter contingency plans are in place for Lochaber?

On October 30, I attended the Scottish Resilient Communities Conference 2018, organised by the Resilience Division of the Scottish Government and held at the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service Training Centre in Cambuslang.

I went in my capacity as chairman of the Resilience Committee of the Spean Bridge, Roy Bridge and Achnacarry Community Council and was particularly interested in the session entitled Learning from the ‘Beast from the East’, especially as the two listed speakers were Inspector Darren Faulds of Police Scotland and William Millar from Transport Scotland.

After hearing what lessons and revised preparations Police Scotland have made in the light of their experiences from last winter, you can imagine how extremely disappointed I was when it was announced that Transport Scotland would not be presenting or even attending this important event.

The session was intended to reflect upon the lessons to be learned from that weather event last winter and to examine what contingencies had been put in place for any similar weather situation in the future, especially for this coming winter, which is already being forecast to be severe.

I was particularly interested in finding out from Transport Scotland what arrangements had been made to ensure that fuel oil and food supplies for Lochaber were guaranteed this year as during the now infamous Beast from the East last winter, when all roads from the central belt were either blocked or severely disrupted, most fuel stations around Lochaber ran out of diesel and the shelves in the supermarkets and shops emptied fast and many items were not available.

As everything we buy in the Lochaber area is delivered by road transport – the only rail freight that comes into Fort William is the Alumina powder delivered to the smelter by dedicated rail tanks several times a week from a port in NE England – it seems to me an obvious and essential contingency arrangement to plan to have emergency deliveries of fuel and food by rail, especially as we have road accessible railway sidings available for use at the Liberty Smelter, Fort William Freight Depot and Corpach Harbour.

I am also aware that Ferguson Transport, through its large lorry fleet and rail division, is ideally placed to receive, handle and distribute such emergency deliveries should the need arise.

In view of the no-show by Transport Scotland at the conference, I have now decided to ask the open question: Is Fort William prepared for another Beast from the East? I sincerely hope that someone can assure me, and other readers, that contingency plans based upon last winter’s experience have now been put in place and we will, therefore, not have to face another period of isolation from essential supplies during this, or any future winter.

Ian Langley, Lower Inverroy.

Air connections are vital for islanders

Loganair will be introducing a new direct air connection between Islay and Edinburgh in 2019.

Much like our ferry service regular fights from Islay are not a luxury they are an essential lifeline service.

This expansion in service will allow much quicker travel time to and from Edinburgh and this will also facilitate air travel between Islay along with other parts of the world which are served more easily via Edinburgh than Glasgow.

Loganair have said this will not impact the Glasgow flight timetable for next year which will continue as it is.

This is welcome news and will help see our local Islay economy grow further particularly in our tourism sector.

Finally, Islay is starting to see some much needed recognition as a fast growing entrepreneurial and tourism hub. Transport links to match our economic and industrial growth will help see Islay and Jura’s future secured.

Councillor Alastair Redman, Islay.

New school is a fine example of community endeavour

How fantastic it is to see that the new Strontian Primary School is now open, providing a long-overdue, fit-for-purpose building for the young people of the community.

The volunteers who came together to make it happen should be commended for their vision and perseverance, after Highland Council submitted a flawed and wholly-unacceptable proposal. The fact that they were willing to give up their time to see this project through is fantastic.

It is a fact of life that this sort of community endeavour is becoming increasingly necessary, probably the result of a combination of austerity, increasing procedural demands and red tape, and a combination of inept officials working alongside over-worked officials – neither of whom are able to do their jobs properly.

I believe this set of circumstances can only be a good thing for us all, forcing us to take greater control of our lives, situations and circumstances, where perhaps there has been a recent tendency to expect someone else to provide everything to which we believe we are entitled.

Let us hope that both sides can learn from this project, and the great many other similar projects being undertaken – that the officials can be willing to work with communities with openness and flexibility, and more groups of volunteers come together to find ways to satisfy the needs of their community in ways which are most appropriate for them and their particular circumstances, and that the process becomes less ‘bruising’ for all concerned.

Joanne Matheson, Acharacle.

Rail link to Edinburgh would be a great benefit

I read the article on the potential rail link between Fort William and Edinburgh with great interest (Lochaber Times, October 25).

I think it is very interesting and support the idea of carrying out a feasibility study. Furthermore, I believe there also needs to be a new look at the strategic economic development of the Lochaber area and an associated plan for transport and links to other parts of Scotland. Better links to Edinburgh and to London should be a key part of that review.

The WHILE (West Highland Line Extension) proposal is an ingenious idea to provide an effective link with Edinburgh, which is the main area of economic development in Scotland. Having such a link would be to the great benefit of the economy of Fort William and surrounding areas.

It would open up more business opportunities for Lochaber residents. It would also enable passengers to travel by day to and from London more easily and support the tourist industry, as well as Fort William businesses with links to London.

In the interim, however, there needs to be better provision of public transport to Edinburgh. Currently train and bus services are via Glasgow, which is ludicrous and makes it difficult for elderly people to make the journey. In effect, it forces those who can do so to travel by car. It also increases congestion on the A82.

As an aside, the state of the A82 and A84 to Edinburgh is appalling and not conducive to the amount of heavy transport vehicles that are increasingly using the road. Commercial traffic should be encouraged to transport goods via rail. This would save public money being spent on the roads which are being worn down by the heavy vehicles. Again the WHILE proposal would help with this strategy.

Anne Marie MacLaren, by email.