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Two MSPs for the Western Isles have contacted both CalMac and the Scottish Government due to concerns stemming from news that ferry capacity will be reduced on the Uig triangle in 2022.
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant says she is concerned about new revelations that Tarbert would be without a mainland ferry link from September 2022, while the Uig linkspan was upgraded.
CalMac is consulting on the 21-week timetable from September 12 next year which would discontinue entirely the ferry connection to Tarbert on Harris, during improvements to the Uig harbour on Skye.
The Uig Harbour will include the linkspan replacement, new terminal building and dredging in preparation for new vessels.
The ferry service from Lochmaddy, North Uist, would be rerouted to Ullapool and there will be increased sailings from Lochboisdale in South Uist.
Labour MSP Mrs Grant said the Harris community was a vibrant, enterprising community which was being given ‘short shrift’ by CalMac and the Scottish Government’s mismanagement of ferry strategy.
‘In addition to the, frankly ridiculous, proposals of a reduced capacity ferry service during the peak season of summer, 2022, CalMac is now adding insult to injury by telling Harris that its lifeline ferry services are just not that important, and they don’t qualify for a temporary alternative, ‘ she added.
‘To advise an entire island that they will have to use the neighbouring island’s already oversubscribed service without additional capacity being provided is jaw-dropping.’
Mrs Grant went on to claim that the only reason the Uig linkspan was having to be upgraded in the first place is because the Scottish Government did not listen to the community wishes that would have led them to order a vessel to fit the existing infrastructure.
‘Instead the Scottish Government have chosen to cut off a community from essential economic and health travel links in order to build a new pier for a ferry that hasn’t been delivered yet, doesn’t meet requirements laid out by the operator and which we are unsure if or when it will arrive,’ she added.
‘I wish I could say I was surprised, but unfortunately the inability of this government to hit water if it fell out of a boat no longer surprises me.’
Mrs Grant has now written to CalMac to ask for further consideration on how it can meet it’s legal obligation to provide a lifeline service to the communities of Harris.
Meanwhile, SNP MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Alasdair Allan, has asked the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to ensure adequate transport links to Harris are maintained through next year.
Several island individuals and authorities have already highlighted the severe disruption and economic damage which the proposed arrangements would bring to the community and economy of Harris.
Mr Allan commented: ‘We have already heard that the removal of the mezzanine deck on the Uig triangle would cost the islands economy up to £9m next summer. Now, islanders are being asked to consult on proposals which would completely remove the Tarbert connection from September for nearly half the year.
‘The alternative travellers to and from Harris is to go via Stornoway. Yet no additional capacity or timetabling is planned for the MV Loch Seaforth, the busiest route in the network.
‘This will result in longer journeys and put even more pressure on CalMac staff and the network during the start of the dry-dock season, and could potentially cause a string of visitor cancellations.
‘It is clear that we need to ensure additional capacity. I have therefore asked the Scottish Government what steps they will take to ensure adequate connectivity between Harris and the mainland.
‘I also highlighted the harm this will cause to an already-debilitated island economy directly with the Minister for Transport.’
- Residents on Skye are being given the opportunity to provid feedback over plans to introduce an alternative timetable for the ferry service while work at Uig Harbour is under way. CalMac held three in-person consultation sessions in December, including one at Uig Village Hall. The presentation is now available online and sets out plans that will be put in place to maintain service throughout the closure and minimise the impact to customers, including information on a proposed alternative timetable.
For more information visit, www.calmac.co.uk/uig-harbour-upgrades-community-consultation-december-2021
The MV Loch Seaforth, pictured, which is already plying the busiest route in the ferry network.
Rhoda Grant NO F52 Rhoda Grant MSP
Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan