Islanders’ fury over proposed ferry cut

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Anger has erupted in Harris at CalMac’s proposal to cut the ferry service into Tarbert by half on Saturdays, which islanders say will bring the tourism industry to a standstill.

The Harris Forum has called on CalMac to ‘urgently reconsider their proposed timetable and restore the vital services that have been removed’ amid claims the ‘backbone’ of islands tourism will be severely hit if the timetable is not changed.

CalMac, which is asking for views in a consultation, said it will consider the Harris Forum’s response and feed it back to Transport Scotland, which sets the final timetables.

The forum, composed of community and business leaders, wrote to CalMac: ‘The Harris Forum wishes to state our total and unanimous objection to the proposed timetable for the summer ferry service between Tarbert, Harris and Uig, Skye.

‘Having fought for many years to have this service expanded to meet the growing needs of our community it is extremely disheartening and unacceptable to see a proposed 50 per cent reduction in sailings out of Tarbert on a Saturday.

‘The ferries have struggled to cope with the huge demand for sailings at the weekend up till now with both sailings out of Tarbert fully booked before the end of April.

‘The proposed timetable, which also does away with a further inbound sailing on a Monday morning, would, if enacted cause huge negative economic and logistical problems for Harris during what is the busiest time of the year.

‘Saturday is major changeover day for the hospitality industry and it relies heavily on guests being able to travel to and from the island on that day. By removing 50 per cent of the ferry spaces this will hugely impact on how many will actually be able to come and visit the island.

‘We have already been negatively impacted this year on a number of occasions when the service has been withdrawn at short notice and passengers moved onto an overnight sailing between Stornoway and Ullapool. Those changes resulted in a significant loss of income to many businesses in Harris as a large number of travelling passengers cancelled their trips.

‘Whoever thought that arriving in Stornoway at 03:30, with a young family and then having to travel to Harris to find their accommodation, was a good idea, clearly has no idea of the nightmare journeys this entailed.

‘We would ask that CalMac urgently reconsider their proposed timetable and restore the vital services that have been removed.

‘We would also strongly urge Harris Transport Forum, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Calmac Community Board and our MSP and PM to raise this and seek a reversal of this retrograde and negative proposal.’

Forum members include North Harris Community Council, Scalpay Community Council, South Harris Community Council, Harris Development Ltd, North Harris Trust, West Harris Trust, Leverburgh Community Hub, Harris Voluntary Services, Western isles Community Care Forum and Community Learning and Development.

A CalMac spokeswoman said: ‘The summer timetable is a proposal which is out for consultation and no decisions on it have been taken. We welcome and encourage feedback from local communities about the ferry service and are keen to hear their ideas. All feedback will be given to Transport Scotland before they finalise the timetable.’