BY LISA FALCONER
A Western Isles councillor has said it is “unacceptable” that communities have not been consulted over a six week disruption to ferry services while work is carried out at Ullapool harbour.
As part of works being carried out to accommodate the new ‘Loch Seaforth’ ferry, a new two-lane linkspan is to be built, with work beginning last week.
A spokesman for the Ullapool Harbout Trust said: “To complete the ferry infrastructure upgrade the harbour has received sufficient funding to replace the 42-year old car ramp with work scheduled to start in early November. The new two-lane linkspan will be quieter and more efficient in discharging vehicles and reducing turnaround times. There will be further disruption to village life whilst the linkspan is being installed. Addiionally for a six-week period the ferry will be unable to discharge vehicles – a passenger only run is being planned by the operator.
“Ullapool Harbour Trustees apologise in advance for any inconvenience caused but given the age of the existing structure, a full replacement of the linkspan is the only realistic option.”
CalMac have said the work will be “hugely beneficial to ferry travellers” but are yet to announce contingency plans during the disruption, with a spokesman commenting: “Clearly some disruption will be likely, but this will be for a limited period, and the timing, in the early part of 2015, has been chosen to ensure that the works are completed in good time for the busy summer season.
“CalMac is currently working through a number of options to find a way of minimising the impact of these works on its customers and will make an announcement of its plans in due course once all options have been fully explored. It would prefer not to comment on any specific option at this stage.”
Commenting on the plans, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar Councillor John Mackay, chair of transportation and infrastructure, said: “Whilst we accept the need for works it is unacceptable that there has been no consultation with the people and businesses of the Western Isles who will be directly affected by this disruption nor the representatives of the affected communities.
“It is unfortunate that, after the level of consultation and information provided during the consideration of options associated with the extension works at Ullapool and its successful delivery, we are now in this situation where there has been no consultation and a lack of information for these subsequent works.
The Outer Hebrides Community Planning Partnership also voiced concerns about the lack of community consultation. Chair of the OHCPP, Councillor Angus Campbell, said: “There is no doubt that the work to the linkspan in Ullapool is both necessary, and will help to make the turnaround much swifter and more efficient, however, we are very disappointed with the lack of communication from CMAL and CalMac on this issue. We still do not know when exactly this six week period will come into force or what alternative provision will be made. This is very concerning and I would encourage CalMac to discuss their plans with our communities as soon as possible, particularly as this is a lifeline service.”
Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant added her concerns, commenting: “Six weeks of disruption to car ferry services between Ullapool and Stornoway will create huge difficulties for those seeking to travel on the route next year. Whilst an alternative route from Uig could be introduced, this will mean that many car ferry passengers are out of pocket by having to potentially drive further to access the ferry.
“Further, if alternative sailings for car ferry passengers and commercial vehicles are not direct from Ullapool to Stornoway, and instead leave Uig and arrive in to Tarbet, then many passengers will also face and extended journey on arrival and departure in order to get where they are going, making the journey wholly inconvenient.
“I will be writing to CalMac and the Scottish Government to ask what route options they are considering to minimise disruption to vehicles and car ferry passengers during the six week installation of the new link span to Ullapool next year.”