Councillors meet with Cmal as concerns expressed about new ferry arrangements

WESTERN Isles Councillors met with representatives from Cmal and Calmac this week to be briefed on the new ferry due to go into service on the Stornoway to Ullapool run in the summer of 2014.

In a meeting chaired by Cllr John Mackay, Chairman of Transportation, councillors also offered views on the several issues raised in discussions with constituents.

Cllr Charlie Nicolson expressed disappointment with the proposed speed of the new ferry resulting in a reduction of only 15 minutes in the sea crossing and said that he expected in this day and age the journey to be no more than two hours.

He said: “This is entirely unacceptable and given that we’re going to have this ferry for at least 20 years let’s try and get a much quicker journey - they’re doing this in many other ports around the UK.”

No details were available regarding timetabling or whether the boarding times would be increased due to different loading times.

The meeting was told that the fuel costs would be significantly increased if a speedier crossing was to be achieved. In response to a query from Cllr Roddie Mackay it was confirmed that this added cost would not affect the operators profits as the entire fuel cost is currently funded by the government.

Cllr Roddie Mackay also referred to the concerns raised regarding the Marine Evacuation System and its tested capability to Force 6 winds and three metre waves and was assured that the actual capability was up to Force 8 and eight metre waves.

It was stated that they were still looking at the concerns raised by Capt Morris Macleod but that the system was commonly used throughout the industry in large vessels in more exposed waters.

Cllr Angus McCormack raised the issues of disabled access, luggage carriage for the elderly and a suitably sized quiet room; which he pointed out was far too small with a 12 seat capacity and having a play area located adjacent to it.

Cllr Rae Mackenzie agreed with Cllr McCormack’s concerns and Cllr Iain Morrison suggested a conveyor belt system for the luggage.

The attending Cmal civil engineer accepted that there were challenges for the disabled access at Stornoway with legislation insisting on certain gradient of ramp meaning a fairly lengthy walk to board the vessel.

Also at the meeting Cllr Donald Crichton sought confirmation that talks with the Stornoway Port Authority were active and ongoing and that the various shore based issues were being addressed given that the service date for the new vessel was not far away.