New ferry service would come at a price, says Minister

A new ferry service between Lochboisdale and Mallaig would have a capital cost of at least £26million and an annual resource of up to £4million, said Alex Neil, Minister for Infrastructure and Capital Investment, at a debate in the Scottish Parliament this morning (Thursday).

The debate was instigated by Labour MSP Rhoda Grant and a motion was put forward by Elaine Murray calling for the ferry service to be introduced as soon as possible.

Speaking in the debate Mr Neil said: “I want to make it absolutely clear that we will listen to what people say including the possibility of introducing a Lochboisdale to Mallaig ferry but there is no escaping the reality of the cost of introducing that service.”

He said if the Scottish Government was to invest in the new route, that money would have to be taken from somewhere else and he warned that such a service could damage the viability of existing ferry routes.

He said he could see the merits of having a trial but there should be a debate about whether that would be of a dedicated new service or a trial of re-routing existing services.

Speaking in the debate Rhoda Grant MSP said: “This is a long running campaign and it makes economic sense to have a Lochboisdale Mallaig link. This is not calling for re-routing of the ferry that serves Barra or any other islands – this is a new route. This would allow the Barra to Oban service to focus of that and that would have a positive impact on Barra.”

She pointed out that tourism could benefit from this as hoteliers were reporting ferries were fully booked but hotels were only half full.

Mary Scanlon, MSP also spoke in the debate and highlighted why the new route would be so advantageous to the local community including its boost for the local economy through more deliveries to the Uists and a better service for fish producers who often struggle to get their product on the Lochmaddy to Uig ferry. It would also dramatically cut journey times and boost tourism.

Jamie McGrigor MSP urged people to respond to the consultation of the draft ferries review which closes for responses next week (March 31).

He supported the call for the start of a new service but also stressed the importance of existing services.

He said: “I want to emphasis the importance of the existing services and make a plea for my constituents on Barra, who should have a better service than three days a week.”

Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan took part in the debate and commented: “We should have ambitions to improve the ferry services to both Barra and Uist, and to work together to recognise the needs of each community.  As I said in my two responses to consultations around this issue, the community has made clear its strong view about the option of a shorter crossing from Lochboisdale, and if resources can be found, such a service would be a positive development. It is a welcome sign that infrastructure Minister, Alex Neil, is taking an open approach to gathering evidence from communities on this issue.”

The Missing Link Campaign were at Holyrood for the debate.

Angus MacMillan from the group said they were pleased that the issue had been raised in the Scottish Parliament as Transport Minister Keith Brown had refused to meet them to discuss it.

“The Western Isles and Highland Council have already given their strong backing to our campaign. Perhaps now that the issue is to be the subject of debate within the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Government will treat our case with the respect and consideration we believe that it deserves, and I hope that they reconsider their position and include and Lochboisdale-Mallaig service in the ferries review.”