Harris needs dedicated ferry service

Calls were made this week by a local forum for a dedicated ferry for Harris as the current arrangements, they said, are hampering travel and any economic recovery.
M V Hebrides. SGD. 22227M V Hebrides. SGD. 22227
M V Hebrides. SGD. 22227

While the ‘MV Hebrides’, which serves the Tarbert-Skye-Lochmaddy triangle, continues to be one the most reliable vessels in the network, capacity is limited – and particularly so currently as the Mezzanine deck is out of action due to difficulties in maintaining physical distancing.

Had it not been for the complete fiasco surrounding the construction of two ferries at Ferguson Marine – which are five years behind schedule and could cost up to £300 million – the route would now be served by a new, larger vessel with additional capacity.

The Harris Transport Forum met last week and chief among their concerns was the prospect of economic recovery being curtailed through insufficient ferry capacity and have now demanded a dedicated vessel of their own.

Margaret MacKenzie, Chair of Harris Transport Forum said: “Harris and North Uist are the islands most affected by the failure to deliver new ferries into the CalMac fleet. Urgent action is needed and on behalf of the community in Harris the Forum want to see decisive action towards the provision of a dedicated ferry for each route across the Little Minch.

"This is the message that Harris would have given CMAL had we been asked before they went ahead and ordered another shared vessel and had our voice been heard in 2014 we might have avoided the shameful situation that has seen hundreds of millions of pounds wasted.”

The Forum were unconvinced that the mezzanine deck should remain out of use, pointing out that the likes of train and bus companies are able undertake extensive cleaning operations.

Uisdean Robertson, chair of the transportation committee on Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, backed their calls for a dedicated ferry.

"Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has presented a strategic action plan to Government that would address a number of the capacity challenges faced by communities from the Butt of Lewis to Arran,” he said.

"Providing dedicated ferries to Harris and North Uist would be a strong step forward in improving capacity and resilience to these islands. Both communities would be happy to work with Government and its agencies on moving forward this vision and would welcome meaningful engagement from Government on this request.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We recognise communities’ frustration at the current disruption and the impact it is having. We are doing everything that we can, supporting CalMac to maximise available capacity across the network and to ensure the timely resolution of these issues.

“We are also delivering new tonnage to support our communities and working with CMAL, CalMac, MSPs, community representatives and others to develop investment programmes for major vessels and small vessels - investing at least £580 million over the next five years.

“In relation to short term issues, we are actively exploring opportunities for chartering additional tonnage, including consideration of the suitability of the MV Pentalina and looking at other credible, affordable and viable options to improve resilience.”