Electric ferry should be an option for Corran Narrows, says councillor

The ferry that plies the Corran Narrows is regarded as a vital lifeline service for communities on the peninsula. NO-F47-corran-ferry-1
The Corran Ferry is the second busiest crossing in Scotland.

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Lochaber councillor Ben Thompson has urged Highland Council to consider an electric vessel as one of the options for a replacement ferry for the Corran Narrows.

The comments from the councillor – one of three for the Caol and Mallaig ward – came during Monday’s meeting – held virtually due to coronavirus restrictions – of the council’s Lochaber Area Committee.

The ferry replacement issue is separate from the feasibility study which recently examined the possibility of a fixed link across the Corran Narrows.

The Fixed Link Feasibility Study has now been submitted to Transport Scotland for consideration within the Strategic Transport Projects Review. It is understood that the review is on hold due to the Covid situation.

Whatever happens involving a fixed link is a long-term solution and will still require an immediate solution to the problem of the ageing ferry vessels plying the narrows on Scotland’s second busiest ferry route, carrying more than 250,000 vehicles and over 500,000 passengers a year.

The existing two ferries, MV Corran and its back-up vessel, Maid of Glencoul, need to be replaced due to their age, reliability issues, and problems when it comes to sourcing spare parts.

The vessels are also too small, leading to traffic queuing issues on either side of the Corran Narrows, particularly in high season, which is now approximately nine months of the year.

Council officials say the existing ferries are also quarter loading which means the slipways cannot accommodate the more usual roll on/roll off ferries. This also makes it difficult to secure a replacement vessel in the event of breakdown.

For all of the above reasons, the vessels are at the end of their lives and are in need of replacement.

Due to this, the council’s Corran Ferry Project has been working on developing an Outline Business Case (OBC) for the last 12 months, to determine future proposals for capital investment in vessels, slipway structures, and service delivery methods.

Speaking after the area committee meeting, Councillor Thompson said:  ‘Shouldn’t the next Corran Ferry be a more environmentally friendly vessel?

Ben Thompson. F17benthompson1no
Ben Thompson. F17benthompson1no

‘At Lochaber Area Committee today I challenged council officials leading the ferry project to make sure options other than diesel were included in the next stage.

‘Whether that is hydrogen or battery or a hybrid system, when we get to the design stage of a new vessel those options need to be included. That could come as soon as early next year, all going well.

‘The council accepted there was a climate emergency last year, and committed to work to a carbon neutral Highlands. My concern is that the non-fossil fuel options may be more expensive up front, and the bean counters will demand the cheapest option to build, despite battery ferries potentially being cheaper in the long run.

‘You only need to ‘Google’ electric ferries to see how common they are becoming in Norway, Canada etc. It seems an obvious choice for a short trip ferry in a carbon neutral Highlands.’

And Councillor Thompson was planning to press his suggestion for a ‘greener’ vessel among the ferry options when the issue was due to be discussed at yesterday’s (Wednesday) meeting of  Highland Council’s economy and infrastructure committee – also held virtually.

Members were to be asked to approve that the council should explore the option of a transfer of responsibility for the service to Transport Scotland in more detail; approve that a private operator running the service should be rejected for further consideration; approve the preferred vessel and infrastructure option (Roll-on Roll-off); support the concept of a five-year ferry plan and note the requirement for the setting up of a Corran Narrows Options Working Group.

Local MSP Kate Forbes said: ‘The Corran Ferry is a lifeline and I know that local views have been divided in the past on the best way of replacing the ailing ferry.

‘It is an issue that I have had extensive discussions about, and it is good to see the Area Committee discussing the issue.’