Island parcels take detour to Belfast

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A large number of parcels bound for the Western Isles are taking a 300 mile detour from Inverness to Belfast for strict security checks – meaning delays of several weeks for some island residents.

New regulations agreed by Royal Mail mean all first class parcels arriving at Inverness for onward travel to the islands has to be routinely scanned for potentially dangerous contents.

If the scanner is unable to identify the contents, the packages are redirected to Royal Mail’s National Returns Centre in Belfast where they are re-scanned in a 3D scanner or opened before being returned to Inverness.

Residents across the islands have told the Gazette of huge delays they have encountered and there are fears that this could become an even bigger issue in the run up to Christmas.

Some say they have waited so long for items they have re-ordered from somewhere else only to receive the original parcel weeks later. Others said this had affected not only parcels but also large envelopes and there were problems with items such as cordless drill batteries, seeds, food or drink items, lighters, homeopathic medicines and car parts.

A spokesperson for Royal Mail said nothing would be carried on an aircraft unless it had been identified and that all ‘prohibited, restricted, suspicious or unknown’ items would be subject to further checks.

She said: “As part of Royal Mail terms and conditions, we can’t accept any package into our network without knowing what is inside. This is why the majority of items will be stopped from travelling on aircraft.

 “The Royal Mail, Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), Department for Transport (DfT) and Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) agreed new procedures for sending small quantities of specific consumer items through the post to UK addresses. These changes came into force on 15 July 2013. 

She added: “The updated procedures limit the risk posed by those consumer items containing flammable liquid, aerosols or lithium batteries contained in or sent with equipment when sent in the post.

 “Now only certain Prohibited and Restricted items are allowed to fly provided they comply with the regulations and are declared  at the time of posting, they are labelled accordingly and will be allowed to pass through the scanning procedure.

“Any prohibited, restricted or suspicious or unknown items found at the scanning stage are subject to additional security measures to determine if the item can be forwarded onto the recipient by surface route via our National Return Letter Centre.”

She added that customers could get full information at the Post Office or through the Royal Mail website and customer services on 08457 740 740.

Carloway resident Chris Lee was informed by Royal Mail that his parcels had been sent to Belfast because senders were not declaring the nature of contents on the exterior of the parcel which is causing the Civil Aviation Authority to deem them as ‘potentially unsafe’ and leading to further investigation.

When he finally received one parcel that contained olive oil, he was told in a letter from Royal Mail that it ‘resembled certain items classified as dangerous or prohibited goods’.

Western Isles politicians are now getting involved and are both planning to write to Royal Mail about this issue.

Angus MacNeil MP said this was a ‘ridiculous’ situation and that he would be writing to Vince Cable, Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills on this issue. “This should not be impeding service to the islands.”

Alasdair Allan MSP added: “I appreciate the need for items to be scanned before going on planes and the safety issues around that. However, I have written to Royal Mail to ask whether there has been any rise in the number of items posted to the Western Isles ending up having to be checked in Belfast.  At Christmas, the workload of the Royal Mail hugely increases, and it would certainly not be manageable if parcels going to the Western Isles had to go via Belfast anything like routinely.”

Royal Mail have also said the delay is unlikely to affect 2nd class mail which is transported by sea.

Multi national retailers like Amazon are thought to have been heavily affected by this situation and in some cases have had to issue customers with refunds as the packages have not arrived. They have then arrived many weeks later.

Amazon are already planning their own logistics centres across the UK and could solely use their own service rather than Royal Mail in the future.