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‘These services aren’t a luxury for islanders’: Western Isles travel issues raised with transport minister

western isles transport challenges
CalMac have been consulting on plans to introduce charges for ferries. Picture by Shutterstock.

Representatives from the Western Isles have met Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth to discuss the ongoing transport issues.

The SNP’s Angus MacNeil and Alasdair Allan have raised concerns over the reliability and affordability of vital ferry services as summer fast approaches.

It comes amid ongoing disruption – with those on Uist stranded last week after a ferry collided with Lochmaddy Pier, resulting in it being pulled from service.

Sailings were cancelled, although the MV Hebrides was back in action on Monday.

Western Isles Council last week urged the government to “stop making excuses” and take action now, saying the chaos had confirmed what many islanders have feared for years.

The Scottish Government has also faced questions over the delays to two new ferries due to be added to the CalMac fleet.

In a meeting yesterday with Ms Gilruth, Mr MacNeil and Mr Allan made it clear that island communities had concerns in the lead up to the summer season.

‘These services aren’t a luxury’

It is not only the embattled ferry services concerning island residents, but other issues such as the upcoming Uig Harbour closure in October and the capacity of flights to Barra.

While the unique beach landing attracts numerous tourists, it increases pressure on the small flying-taxi service vital for Barra residents.

MSP Mr Allan said: “This was a useful and productive meeting.

“The minister’s recent visits and engagement with communities in the Western Isles has left her with a clear understanding of the challenges we face.

“We discussed the situation with the MV Lord of the Isles, CalMac’s booking policies, cancellation charges, the upcoming closure of Uig Harbour, the pressing need for more capacity on CalMac’s network, and capacity on the flights to Barra during the summer.

Plane landing on the beach at Barra Airport. Picture by Gordon Robertson

“These services aren’t a luxury for islanders: they are lifeline services, which impact and affect virtually every facet of island life.

“We need to see improvements, and yesterday’s meeting was a good chance to make that case.”

Mr MacNeil MP added: “I thought she listened to the suggestion of introducing booking windows on ferries and the wisdom of having those.

“She was also looking for further information on CalMac’s plans to introduce levies on cancelled ferry bookings.

“The idea of penalising people who make bookings and don’t travel will cause all sorts of problems for oil workers, and many other people have to change plans at short notice.”

Jenny Gilruth, Minister for Transport said: “I was very pleased to meet with Angus and Alasdair to discuss some of the challenges the Western Isles have experienced in relation to transport in recent months.

“Having spent some time during Easter recess in Barra, the Uists & Stornoway, it was a helpful opportunity to revisit some of the unique challenges which have impacted on island life – not least in relation to recent vessel outages.

“I’ve spent some time with the community board in relation to the recent Lord of the Isles outage, working with CalMac to give islanders better communication.

“I have also instructed CMAL to locate the additional tonnage that the Western Isles desperately needs; which would bring the much needed resilience the fleet currently lacks.

“Meantime I will continue to work with both Alasdair and Angus to ensure CalMac can provide a more resilient and dependable ferry service for the Western Isles.”

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