Islands unite after ferry firm’s U-turn on vessel’s deployment
A ‘FAILURE in community engagement’ has prompted opposing sides to unite following a U-turn on a crucial ferry service.
MV Coruisk has been a major talking point among residents of Lochaber, Oban, Skye and Mull following CalMac’s decision in 2015 to redeploy the ferry from the Mallaig to Armadale route to operate between Craignure and Oban.
But following a campaign by Sleat Transport Forum, MP Ian Blackford announced late last week that after a meeting with managing director Martin Dorchester, CalMac planned to reverse its decision and return the ferry to the MallaigArmadale crossing.
These claims were then quashed five days later when CalMac issued a statement saying that no further changes would be made to the Mallaig to Armadale route this year.
In the statement, Mr Dorchester said he regretted plans for the Mallaig-Armadale route had fallen short of some expectations and he said that after listening to community concerns, CalMac will review vessel deployment for summer 2017 in consultation with affected communities.
He continued: ‘Every change to our summer timetable was made after consultation with the local communities and each change was made in good faith with the sole intention of enhancing ferry services and addressing local concerns, some long-standing, about services in their area. We should also not lose sight of the fact that the vast majority of these changes have been warmly welcomed by those local communities.’
The about turn came as a relief to those on Mull, with councillor Mary-Jean Devon summing up her reaction by saying: ‘ Hurray!’ She added: ‘The whole thing took up most of my weekend, writing letters and asking for information.’
Others were less impressed, not so much with the decision but with the way it was handled. Rob Ware, secretary of Sleat Community Council for Sleat Transport Forum, said CalMac’s silence throughout the process, and especially since Mr Blackford’s announcement last week, was his biggest grievance and he believed it has created community warfare.
He added: ‘Customer confidence in the Mallaig to Armadale route is at its lowest ebb. Since the decision earlier this year there have been revisions to the revised timetable and every time it is the customer who is losing out. There is no doubt Mull, too, needs extra capacity but to describe the way in which CalMac has treated this issue and the people concerned as a shambles is putting it nicely.’
Brendan O’Hara, SNP MP for Argyll and Bute, described the situation as a pantomime.
He said: ‘I am delighted for the people of Mull that the MV
Coruisk will be staying where it is and I sincerely hope the needs of those in Skye are addressed and made a priority. This was never meant to be a case of Mull versus Skye.
‘There has been a complete failure in community engagement on behalf of CalMac.
‘The decision is almost playing second fiddle. It was the uncertainty which has caused problems. After Mr Blackford’s announcement I asked Martin Dorchester to contact me. I still have not had a response.
‘In the lead up to what will be the busiest time of the year, businesses could not operate properly with this hanging over them. Customers would have been put off making bookings and residents were in disarray.
‘Even if it wasn’t going to be the decision people wanted, they had to know one way or another.’ When contacted by The Oban
Times regarding the complaints about its community engagement, a CalMac spokesman said: ‘ We needed to look at a range of options to address reliability issues on the MallaigArmadale route, including timetable amendments.
‘This took some time and inevitably generated speculation about what was happening to the MV Coruisk, which was unfortunate.
‘As soon as a final decision was made in consultation with Transport Scotland on what was the best options for these two routes, working within the resources we have, communities were advised.’
As The Oban Times went to press it is understood Mr Blackford was arranging an emergency meeting with Transport Scotland, and Sleat Transport Forum will invite Mr Dorchester to attend a public meeting in Sleat.