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Work on Uig pier could be split – causing two shorter closures

A ferry docked in a harbour.
The closure of Uig Pier on Skye is causing concern for islanders. Picture: Sandy McCook.

A compromise may be on the horizon to stop islanders being marooned by the lack of a dedicated ferry for six months.

Proposals to shorten the closure of Uig Pier on Skye to 14 weeks have been revealed.

The start of the shutdown would be deferred until the end of January instead of October.

The Scottish Government is being asked by tens of thousands of people to consider delaying the redevelopment of the busy ferry port on Skye.

Under the existing plan, there would be no ferries between Harris and Skye for the six months of the redevelopment.

North Uist would be served by a temporary service but the ferry would be sailing from Ullapool, and its carrying capacity would be reduced by a third.

A petition now signed by more than 40,000 people seeking a U-turn on the plans is to be presented to Scottish Government this week.

The Caledonian MacBrayne ferry ‘Hebrides’ arrives in Uig on Skye from Tarbert on Harris. Picture by Sandy MacCook/DC Thomson

Could work be split into two shorter closures?

Uig provides Harris with its only direct ferry service to the mainland, and is one of only two routes out of Uist.

A decision on the way to implement the Uig harbour closure and associated CalMac ferry upheaval on the Skye triangle route is being looked at again.

Under the revised plans North Uist and Harris ferry services would continue as present into the start of 2023 with the major part of the building works rescheduled.

A new linkspan would be installed on the seabed as part of construction works.

Harbour owners Highland Council previously insisted the ferry pier had to be out of action from this October until nearly April to allow the development to proceed.

But Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth instructed a relook at the closure plans to seek a way of reorganising the building schedule and reducing the stoppage period.

Now a two stage outage is scheduled for the shoulder months of next year.

However, this carries a risk of temporary shutdowns over the busy summer season, potentially impacting ferry sailings for Uist and Harris and hitting the tourism trade – something island business groups have already pointed out.

The plan is to defer the start of linkspan installation until the end of January. No ferry would operate out of Uig in Skye from the tail end of January until the end of March.

Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth ordered a review of the original 14-week closure plans

‘Significant progress’

Ferry services would resume again over the summer season with a second closure period penciled in for between the end of October and mid-December.

Proposed charters of Seatruck’s freight vessel MV Arrow along with Pentland Ferries passenger vessel, MV Pentalina, are being discussed to provide additional capacity during the rescheduled outages.

The new proposal put forward by Ms Gilruth at a meeting with island representatives last week would reduce the outage period from 24 weeks to 14 weeks – split into an eight week and a six week period.

Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan said it was “significant progress.”

He said: “The original proposal would have seen Uig pier closed for over five months this winter, meaning no ferries at all to Tarbert, Harris and the service from Lochmaddy being diverted far to the north to Ullapool during that long period.

“I welcome this new proposal which will very significantly reduce the number of weeks that Uig pier will be out of action for. It is my view that this disruption, while still far from ideal, will be easier for local businesses and passengers to work around.

“The minister for transport has put a lot of work into coming back with these alternative proposals.

“I know that people are increasingly anxious for CalMac’s winter timetable to be published so that they can make the travel bookings they need for the months ahead. I am hopeful that once the implications of option is confirmed that the winter timetable will be able to be published as soon as possible.”

The work is also needed to accommodate a new large ferry, currently known as hull 802, which is still under construction at Ferguson Marine shipyard in Port Glasgow.