Con­nec­tiv­ity MSP stuck in He­brides af­ter ferry sum­mit

In­ad­e­quate ser­vice ‘killing com­mu­ni­ties’

The Press and Journal (Inverness, Highlands, and Islands) - - NEWS -

The Min­is­ter for En­ergy, Con­nec­tiv­ity and the Is­lands got stuck in the He­brides last night af­ter at­tend­ing a ferry sum­mit. Many of the at­ten­dees at the Liona­cleit event, in­clud­ing Paul Wheel­house, were stranded when their Glas­gow-bound flight was can­celled in stormy weather.

They had heard dur­ing the day how sig­nif­i­cant neg­a­tive im­pacts of an in­ad­e­quate ferry ser­vice is “slowly killing” com­mu­ni­ties in Uist and Ben­bec­ula.

On a day a gale forced wide­spread can­cel­la­tions on is­land sea routes, key peo­ple in­volved in ferry ser­vices – in­clud­ing ferry min­is­ter Mr Wheel­house and CalMac boss Rob­bie Drum­mond – at­tended the fo­rum in Liona­cleit or­gan­ised by MSP Alas­dair Allan af­ter a sea­son of chaos badly hit the Uist econ­omy.

The Lochbois­dale-Mal­laig ser­vice was sus­pended for lengthy pe­ri­ods in the first half of the year when CalMac re­as­signed the MV Lord of the Isles to cover the In­ner He­brides fol­low­ing a ves­sel break­down else­where in the fleet.

In ad­di­tion and with­out warn­ing, CalMac took away the Skye tri­an­gle reg­u­lar ship MV He­brides to cover the Tiree timetable at the busy Easter pe­riod.

Re­place­ment ves­sel He­bridean Isle could not cope with de­mand.

Space on the ser­vice to Har­ris and Uist was un­avail­able to book for weeks.

Many trav­ellers can­celled their trips to the is­lands, re­sult­ing in sig­nif­i­cant loss of book­ings to ho­tels and B&Bs, while lor­ries de­liv­er­ing food and sup­plies were stranded.

Kevin Hobbs, chief ex­ec­u­tive of CMAL, which owns the in­fra­struc­ture for the ferry ser­vices, said: “We are painfully aware peo­ple were let down badly.”

The ship-build­ing de­lays caused CalMac a “huge prob­lem”, leav­ing the over­stretched ferry net­work with­out the “flex­i­bil­ity” pro­vided by ad­di­tional ships. If the ships had been de­liv­ered on time, this year’s chaos could have been avoided, he said.

Calls for a ded­i­cated ferry for the Skye-Lochmaddy run were em­pha­sised.

Cur­rently, North Uist shares the MV He­brides with Har­ris.

Mal­colm Turner, de­vel­op­ment man­ager with High­lands and Is­lands En­ter­prise, warned the con­se­quence of a de­fi­cient ser­vice is “slowly killing th­ese is­lands” and “lead­ing to de­pop­u­la­tion”.

He stressed: “With­out grow­ing the ferry ser­vice, noth­ing is go­ing to change.”

Mr Wheel­house ac­knowl­edged there are con­cerns.

He said: “I am not duck­ing the chal­lenges – I want to try and un­der­stand the sit­u­a­tion.”

CalMac manag­ing di­rec­tor Mr Drum­mond said: “It was a pos­i­tive meet­ing.

“We look for­ward to con­tin­u­ing to work with all par­ties to de­liver a ferry ser­vice which meets com­mu­nity needs and pro­motes sus­tain­able eco­nomic growth in the is­lands we sup­port.”

“Killing is­lands and lead­ing to de­pop­u­la­tion”

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