Councillor says new ferry service is ‘woefully inadequate’

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A Stornoway councillor has described the provision of the new MV Loch Seaforth as ‘woefully inadequate’ for the islands as he says it puts severe restraints on the tourism sector and will limit travel for people in the islands.

Speaking at the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Councillor Roddie Mackay said: “The consultation made clear that we needed a faster ferry and we needed two ferries. The consultation ignored these requirements and the civil servants and Calmac set the government on a course which is very damaging for these islands.

“We are being given a ferry that is 20% slower than the new ones serving the northern isles (15 mins faster is pretty pathetic in this day and age) and we have minimal changes in capacity. Based on the original capacity on the Isle of Lewis of 123 cars the comparison between it and the new Loch Seaforth, based on the current peak timetable and not taking into account any capacity available on the overnight freight sailing, shows an increase in capacity of around 28 cars per week, less than 1%.”

He continued: “Is this good value for money for the public pound? At a recent meeting I asked about this and the civil servant in attendance commented on how the govt had kindly spent £45 million on the new provision. £45m for a minimal increase in capacity and for 15 min journey time saving does not look like good value for money to me. (That is not including the costs of the port infrastructure changes). We need significant increased capacity and given that the Loch Seaforth is now in the works we need a firm commitment that we retain a second vessel providing a full time freight service.”

The Vice Chairman of the Comhairle’s Policy and Resources said: “Already the signs for this year, with two ferries, suggest that we are going to see huge increases in visitor numbers (many establishments are reporting that they have more advance bookings than ever before and in Harris for example, the 11.50 departure from Tarbert to Uig on a Saturday is now full until mid August, and we’re only in April) .

“Residents in these islands will begin to notice real difficulties in ferry travel this summer and this will only get worse next year and into the future.

“We have been offered a thoroughly inadequate provision, it is set for the next 20 years, it does not properly serve the islanders or the visitors, it will hamper economic growth and development and it will not make living and travelling to and from these islands any easier.

“As far as I can see the attitude of the civil servants advising the government and indeed Calmac,at the recent meeting, suggested an alarming complacency and an extraordinary lacking of understanding of our needs, and we really need to speak with the government now to get a solution that is fit for purpose for the next 20 years. What is proposed currently is entirely unacceptable.”

Mr Mackay concluded: “The government’s proposed Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill talks about “communities having their voices heard in decisions that affect their area” Well this decision is going to have a hugely negative effect on our area and if they truly embrace this principle perhaps they will now help us sort this problem”.