The MV Loch Seaforth is on track to enter service on the Stornoway-Ullapool ferry route by the end of the month, Minister for Transport and Islands Derek Mackay has announced.
During today’s (Monday) visit to Stornoway, Mr Mackay chaired the second meeting of the Stornoway Ullapool Ferry Project Taskforce and also met with local stakeholders to update them on progress.
Stornoway Port Authority say harbour works to accommodate the MV Loch Seaforth will be completed tomorrow. This will allow the vessel to begin berthing trials with a view to being deployed on the route by the end of February.
There is also further progress on planned improvement works at Ullapool in April. The Ullapool Harbour Trust say they will be able to bring the time of the works down from five weeks to four weeks, reducing disruption to the ferry service.
Mr Mackay said: “I’m very pleased that we are making real progress with this project and all the members of the taskforce are working together to bring the MV Loch Seaforth into service as soon as possible.
“The completion of harbour works at Stornoway is a major milestone. It will allow CalMac to get berthing trials underway and working towards having the new vessel operating on the route by the end of the month, or sooner if possible.
“I’m also delighted to hear that Ullapool Harbour Trust will be able to reduce the length of time needed to replace their linkspan, further reducing disruption to ferry users.
“My visit to Stornoway also gave me a chance to engage with some of the local stakeholders face-to-face. We have listened to their concerns and I have committed Transport Scotland to produce a transport integration plan for the four weeks when the ferry will operate a passenger only service. I have agreed to look at fares on the temporary service that will operate between Uig and Stornoway during that four week period.
“We have also agreed to look at running extra sailings with the Isle of Lewis to supplement the service provided by the Loch Seaforth during peak periods in the summer. All partners will continue to engage with stakeholders on all aspects of the project from timetabling to fares, and details of these issues will be finalised in due course.
“This all comes on the back of this morning’s announcement from Visit Scotland of a new £52,000 campaign to encourage people to visit the Outer Hebrides. Hopefully this will help boost tourism during the spring and summer periods.
“What I want to make very clear is that everyone involved in this taskforce is working hard to deliver this important project and make sure the islands remain open for business during these improvement works.
“At the end of this process we will have a new £42 million ferry and two upgraded harbours that will bring real benefits to ferry users and the communities served.”
Councillor John Mackay, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s Chair of Transportation and Infrastructure, said: “Comhairle nan Eilean Siar welcomed Derek MacKay, Minister for Transport and Islands, to the Outer Hebrides as he chaired the Stornoway Ullapool Ferry Project Taskforce and a further meeting involving Outer Hebrides Stakeholder Groups.
“The Taskforce is reporting significant progress in the past month which has provided all with greater certainty over the date of introduction of the Loch Seaforth on the route.
“The meeting of stakeholder groups included representatives from the tourism, haulage and commerce sectors, along with the MP and MSP for the Western Isles, and it certainly appears that positive progress is being made in managing and monitoring the period of link-span unavailability in Ullapool and the summer timetables.
“I am confident these groups will continue to focus on ensuring that the Western Isles are easily accessible and remain one of the top tourist destinations in Scotland.”
Ian Fordham, Chairman of Outer Hebrides Tourism said: “Today we had a very positive meeting with the Minister for Transport and the Islands, and we are delighted that the concerns of the tourism industry have been taken on board.
“We accept the need to get the harbour improvements in Ullapool completed as quickly as possible, and we welcome the commitment to ensure that temporary timetables are suitable for visitors, and that the fares for the disrupted services are set appropriately, and do not impact on the demand on the Uig – Tarbert route. “The agreement to run the Isle of Lewis alongside the Loch Seaforth on peak days in the 2015 summer season is especially welcome, and will give the opportunity for the industry to grow the value of tourism for the benefit of the economy of the whole of the Outer Hebrides.”