Uig pier closure petition now at 5,000…. and growing

A petition calling for “a sensible solution” to the threat of Uig ferry terminal being closed for at least six months had attracted 5000 signatures as we went to press.

By Brian Wilson
Thursday, 23rd June 2022, 9:31 am
The six-month closure of Uig pier, closing down one of the lifeline ferry routes, is going to have a catastrophic effect on island businesses.
The six-month closure of Uig pier, closing down one of the lifeline ferry routes, is going to have a catastrophic effect on island businesses.

Started by Councillor Grant Fulton, it reflected growing fury and alarm about the economic and social implications of the proposed closure which is intended to facilitate work on the installation of a new linkspan at Uig.

However, the petition calls for one of two approaches – either delay the closure until other options can be considered or else create a temporary linkspan which could remain operational while the work on a new linkspan is proceeding.

The linkspan is being installed to accommodate the notorious “Hull 802” which is five years late at the Ferguson yard in Port Glasgow and is not expected to completed, at the most optimistic projection, before the end of next year.

Sign up to our daily Stornoway Gazette Today newsletter

This is contributing to mounting frustration about the fact that completion of the linkspan is being given priority over the urgent economic concerns that the closure has given rise to, particularly in Uist and Harris.

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, hopes to raise the issue at Holyrood on Thursday when she already has a question tabled about capacity on the Uig-Tarbert-Lochmaddy routes.

She said: “It is madness to press ahead with the closure of Uig for at least six months when it is absolutely clear that no acceptable arrangements are in place to protect the islands’ economy and the basic need for people to travel between islands.

“I have asked the Scottish Government to reconsider the case for a temporary linkspan which I am assured is perfectly feasible but has so far been ruled out on grounds of cost.

That has to be re-visited in the light of what their alternative is clearly going to cost the Western Isles economy”.

In a statement this week, the Western Isles MSP, Alasdair Allan, said: “If the Uig harbour works necessitate the closure of the ferry pier, and alternatives cannot be found to continue services between the Western Isles and Skye, arrangements must be put in place which maintain adequate capacity and resilience.

“The Harris and Uist communities have expressed serious concerns about these issues. A service reduction of this magnitude risks deep and lasting harm to the islands’ economy. I am alarmed by the worries that some key local businesses have expressed to me about this.

“I have repeatedly highlighted the impracticality of combining the traffic and freight from the Tarbert ferry service with the existing run between Stornoway-Ullapool.

Uist, meanwhile, faces the unbearable reduction of a third of scheduled capacity”.

The petition – which can be found on www.change.org – states: “The economic impact will be devastating and will deeply affect all areas of our community - businesses, hauliers, shellfish export and personal transport - all elements of our fragile island which is still recovering from the economic impact of the Covid pandemic”.

In a letter to Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth this week, Councillor Uisdean Robertson, chair of the Comhairle’s transportation committee, wrote: There can be no acceptable argument for Government to agree to put in place arrangements that they know are inadequate to meet the normal winter demand for travel to Lochmaddy and Harris. Nor can the failure to understand the social and economic cost of the decisions taken around this closure be condoned.

“CalMac in their consultation on serving our communities during the closure are on record as admitting the proposed service from Lochmaddy to Ullapool will only offer sufficient capacity for two thirds of the normal freight that needs to be carried to and from Uist. This is an incredible admission.

"I have written to Calmac and Ministers in the past setting out a timetable that would maintain capacity to Lochmaddy. CalMac have not disputed that the timetable is feasible to deliver.

“Instead they have said that they cannot risk operating the vessel on an extended day due to the risk of technical failure. Again, this is wholly unacceptable and I am asking you Minister to insist that Calmac do what any commercial operator would do and sweat their asset to maintain an adequate level of service to North Uist”.

He adds: “Comhairle nan Eilean Siar are to engage consultants to capture the social and economic impact of the Uig closure and assess its impact as, for whatever reason, no effort has been made to understand this by either Highland Council as the harbour owner or Transport Scotland who are funding the works.

“I trust Minister you will ensure that your agency (Transport Scotland) and ferry service contractor (CalMac) will support the work of the consultants to ensure the information can be gathered timeously to support the case for mitigatory steps such as those I have outlined to be taken and any compensation considered for losses to our business sector”.