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‘They are hearing but not listening’: Irate Harris business group vents Uig Harbour closure frustration

Uig port
Harris businesses are worries about impact of major ferry disruption.

Harris business representatives are warning some companies on the island as well as Uist could go “down the tube” unless urgent action is taken to address the planned closure of Uig Harbour on Skye for six months as massive upgrade work is carried out.

The Uig to Tarbet ferry link provides a lifeline to the northerly island, but local businesses have raised the alarm, claiming alternative sea crossings to Ullapool on the mainland will not be enough to minimise the severe impact on the economy.

Ferries to Tarbet are a lifeline for local businesses.
Ferries to Tarbet are a lifeline for local businesses.

Major construction at Uig in addition to some already underway is scheduled for later this year which will include berthing structure strengthening, linkspan replacement, a new terminal building and dredging, but Harris businesses are already starting to become extremely twitchy as they eye the autumn.

‘Business are worried, they are nervous’

“What about the businesses that are going to go down the tube because they have no trade?” Harris Development chairman Kenny MacLeod told the Press and Journal from the island.

“Businesses are very worried, they are very nervous; there is no way they can keep going without that ferry trade.

“It is the same as Uist. We fully accept the work has to be done (but) Uist should have been done years ago. The issue we have is no consideration was taken for impact it is going to have.”

Skye Triangle
Ferry terminal in Uig on Skye.

Work on the Uig linkspan and outer roundhead (to allow ferries to deal with roll-on/roll-off vehicles at different tide heights) will start this September with a completion date of February 2023, while CalMac Ferries has alternative sea transport from Ullapool to provide capacity.

It appears the Uig upgrade is necessary as the country emerges from two years of lockdown hibernation to huge pent-up demand for travel being unleashed on the transport industry and its often creaking infrastructure.

However, the alternative Ullapool route does not cut much ice with the irate Harris Development chairman, who has requested an “urgent” meeting with Scottish government Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth.

Scottish transport minister Jenny Gilruth 'hearing but not  listening'.
Scottish transport minister Jenny Gilruth ‘hearing but not  listening’. Photo Kami Thomson / DCT Media

“We keep shouting at the Minister to come and talk to us,” added Mr Macleod.

“They are hearing us but not listening.

“It is still not too late to get a floating linkspan – we are talking about the survival of a fragile community.

“Harris’ economy will be devastated by this.

“We have asked for a ferry from Tarbet to Ullapool (but) CalMac is running on a shoestring. They have looked at moving their ferries around but that is robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

New ferry to serve Skye Triangle

The work has been triggered by Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL)’s need to construct a new 102 metre dual fuel vessel to serve the Skye Triangle route between Uig, Lochmaddy and Tarbet with funding provided by the Scottish government.

However the vessel is one of two sitting unfinished in the Fergson Marine shipyard as a result of the Scottish ferries fiasco.

The “Hull 802”, the Cal Mac (Caledonian MacBrayne), ferry recently pictured under construction at Ferguson Marine in Port Glasgow. The project has been widely criticised for it’s lengthy delays and spiralling costs.

A recent Audit Scotland report warned the vessels won’t be in service until 2023 at the earliest.

It also found the project is now running at more than two times over the original budget.

CalMac has reacted to the stinging Harris criticism and is urging Highland Council to complete the work as swiftly as possible, while conceding Uig Harbour’s closure will negatively impact the islands’ economies.

We would urge Highland Council to complete the planned work as quickly as possible to minimise this disruption.”

CalMac operations director Robert Morrison.

“As a result of Highland Council’s plans to close Uig Harbour for six months, we are faced with the challenging task of finding alternatives for the services we operate between Skye, Lochmaddy and Tarbert,” said CalMac operations director Robert Morrison.

“This closure will affect local communities and businesses, and we have spent a lot of time consulting with them about alternative options.

CalMac ferry.

“Every effort has been made to find the best solution for all and as soon as replacement timetables have been finalised, they will be announced.

“We would urge Highland Council to complete the planned work as quickly as possible to minimise this disruption.”

Dual fuel ships will have more capacity

Highland Council has maintained the new dual fuel vessel is larger with greater carrying capacity and will benefit from the improved capacity provided by the upgrade of the ferry infrastructure at Uig.

But Mr MacLeod is insistent a compromise could be found.

“The contract has already started,” he noted. “There is no reason why a ferry could not carry on using that berth.”

Highland Council awarded the Uig Ferry Terminal upgrade work to RJ McLeod (Contractors).

Uig Port is owned by Highland Council and is working with Transport Scotland, CMAL, CalMac and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council) for the infrastructure work.

Highland Council was not immediately available to comment on Harris Development’s observations.

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