Is­lands unite af­ter ferry firm’s U-turn on ves­sel’s de­ploy­ment

The Oban Times - - Front Page - MON­ICA GIB­SON mgib­son@oban­times.co.uk

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.

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