The Leader of the Comhairle and the Chair of the Transportation Committee have called for an urgent meeting to discuss ferry capacity concerns.
In a letter to the Transport Minister, Cllrs Angus Campbell and John Mackay called on Keith Brown to attend the meeting and insisted capacity concerns regarding the new MV Loch Seaforth should not be underestimated.
The new ferry for the Stornoway/Ullapool route will provide both the passenger and freight service and is due to start service in September. A multi-agency working group has already been set up to look into and provide evidence of the current and foreseeable demand for island services and the potential for growth.
The letter to the Transport Minister stated: “The strength of feeling about this matter should not be underestimated by anybody and we would wish to make you aware of the very real concerns expressed at the recent meetings of the Task Group and the Hebrides Ferry Users Group that Transport Scotland and CalMac are simply not understanding the views and concerns.
“For example, although there is an estimated 42% increase in car capacity, the addition of freight takes that advantage away and indeed at busy times could mean a reduction of car spaces when we need them most.”
In the letter the councillors said a full study will be undertaken to provide the necessary information and data for all Western Isles services.
The letter continued: “However, in the shorter-term, given the very imminent timescale associated with the development of the summer 2015 timetable for the Stornoway Ullapool route and, we strongly feel, the very real need for the proposed capacity at that time to be augmented by a dedicated freight vessel, the Task Group will seek to carry out a short piece of work, the aim of which is to demonstrate need and the implications to the island communities and business sectors should it not be provided.
“In the spirit of continuing collaboration, we would request your [Transport Minister Keith Brown] participation in a meeting as soon as possible here in the Western Isles involving all relevant stakeholders, including Transport Scotland, CalMac, CMAL, HIE, HITRANS, the Outer Hebrides Tourism Industry Association, the Outer Hebrides Commerce Group, local representatives of the Federation of Small Businesses, the Stornoway Port Authority, the Ullapool Harbour Trust, local hauliers and the Comhairle.”
A Transport Scotland spokesperson said Mr Brown will respond to the invitation in due course.
He said MV Loch Seaforth has been designed to provide 42% more car-carrying capacity than her predecessor, with ample deck space to accommodate the overnight freight currently carried by the MV Clipper Ranger. “We are confident she can meet demand for the foreseeable future,” he said.
The spokesman continued: “We have also agreed to fund the MV Isle of Lewis to remain on stand-by until users are satisfied with the reliability and resilience of the new vessel and to provide further reassurance, at a recent meeting with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, the Minister said that evidence-based demand issues would be kept under regular review.
“The Scottish Government is making substantial investment in the Stornoway-Ullapool route including the new MV Seaforth and is providing the majority of funding for harbour works at Ullapool and Stornoway. All of this is in addition to our ongoing investment for significantly reduced fares through the RET scheme, since 2008.”