Letters to the editor – 4.11.21

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Ferry error

Firstly I would like to correct an error in your article regarding the MV Utne in last week’s edition. Rather than carrying “four times as many” cars and passengers than the Coruisk she replaces, she in fact has a lower capacity.

Rather than a typical full load of 35 cars for the Coruisk, it is anticipated that the Utne will carry 34. Rather than carrying the Coruisk’s 250 passengers the Utne will carry 195 (or perhaps a few more if extra seats can be squeezed in). The Utne is also slower, and crossing times will lengthen by around five minutes.

The key benefit the Utne offers is an improved winter timetable, by running additional services at the beginning and the end of the day in addition to those operated by the Isle of Mull. We have long campaigned for this ‘island focused’ service, and to finally have it delivered is fantastic news for the island.

This small seven-year-old second-hand ferry is not a panacea. It enables some shuffling of vessels in summer that brings benefits to other routes, and will improve our winter service. But the summer congestion we have suffered this year – resulting in islanders being unable to travel off the island unless they book weeks in advance – will only worsen.

It is difficult not to compare the Utne with the catamaran we tried to persuade CMAL to purchase, but was ultimately rejected on spurious grounds. The catamaran was far more capable, being able to operate to any port in the network (the Utne is only certified for Mull, Armadale and the Clyde). The catamaran was far bigger, and thus would have fixed our summer congestion problem (80 car spaces rather than 34). The catamaran was faster, and better suited to Craignure pier (the passenger access system would have fitted, unlike the Utne). It would have been able to cope with worse weather (4 metre waves as compared with the Utne’s 2.5). All round the catamaran was far better value for money.

She would also have had a much bigger impact on network-wide resilience, by entirely releasing the MV Isle of Mull in winter, giving CalMac a spare vessel. The Utne by comparison, is far too small to operate the Mull service on her own, so the Isle of Mull has to stay on the route alongside her. This also means that should the Isle of Mull be used for emergency relief service (which is now more likely), Mull will be left with one under-sized and weather-vulnerable vessel.

The decision to buy the Utne but not the catamaran is as baffling as it is frustrating. But the Utne does offer significant winter benefits and we welcome them.

The summer, however, can only get worse with the introduction of the Utne.
There is a solution to that, however. As well as taking a ferry from the Norwegian ferry system, Government should take a lesson too. Many Norwegian ferries operate 18 or 20 hours per day. Thanks to having small crews that live ashore rather than on the vessel, they can operate shift systems that enable far more crossings over a longer operating day. Like Norway, we could have sailings from 6am till midnight. Not only would that give us far more opportunities to travel, it would go a long way to overcoming the very small capacity of the Utne.

We have written to Transport Minister Graeme Dey to urge that the Utne follows a Norwegian-style crewing regime, so that the full potential of this vessel can be felt. We very much hope the answer is positive.
Joe Reade, Chairman, Mull & Iona Ferry Committee.

Oban police station

I was astonished by the recent exchange in the Scottish Parliament between Donald Cameron MSP and Scottish Government minister Keith Brown MSP.

In 2019 the Police Federation described Oban police station as being by far the worst they had come across. This is a damning indictment and embarrassing for those who are proud of Oban, especially its helpful police personnel.

One would think the Scottish Government would wish to help rectify such an important part of the infrastructure of Oban both for residents and those who come on holiday.
Minister Brown’s response was negative. Perhaps he doesn’t realise the importance of Oban to the Highlands and Islands, but it is imperative he does so soon.
Councillor Jamie McGrigor.

Fit for the job?

It was interesting to note that Craig Harrow has called on Blair Allen to stand down as a Highland Councillor, as he now lives in the central belt.
Personally I think that where he lives is less relevant than whether he is actually doing the job.

Unfortunately Mr Allen, like so many of our other elected councillors, seem to believe that the role simply requires them to turn up to full council meetings in Inverness every couple of months – currently being made so much easier for them since there isn’t even any travel involved.

Too many councillors take the (minimum) £16,994 p.a. for five years, but never make themselves available for contact to their constituents. I have lost count of how many times I have written to all four of my elected Ward 21 councillors, either personally or on behalf of Acharacle Community Council, and to date, I haven’t yet received a single reply from Mr Allen – not once.

I can count on the fingers of one hand how often Niall McLean has replied or made contact.

It really is about time that we all stopped voting according to whether someone is a ‘nice’ person, a ‘decent bloke’ or ‘highly regarded’ in their working life, and considered instead whether they have the interest, capacity and time to undertake the role for which they are paid, by us.
Joanne Matheson, Acharacle.

Caol Housing decision

Regardless of the merits of the Scottish Ministers’ decision to overturn the Highland Council planning committee’s decision, there is a fundamental unfairness in the appeals procedure when the council has to prepare its own defence/response to the appeal without the benefit of input and expertise from its own highly-skilled and qualified planning staff – as they had already recommended that the application be approved.

In instances such as this, the local authority should be allocated Scottish Government funding to engage professional planning consultants to prepare a case to defend the planning committee’s decision.
Ken Johnston, Fort William.