NEW FERRIES PLEDGE: Dedicated ships will sail to Harris and North Uist from Uig in Skye

The MV Hebrides operates a triangular route to Lochmaddy and Tarbert. Pic Willie Urquhart

The Scottish Government has announced the creation of dedicated ferry routes for Harris and North Uist – and new ferries to provide a service on them.

In response to a parliamentary question published today (Wednesday) transport minister Jenny Gilruth jettisoned the long term policy of refusing to separate the Uig-Lochmaddy and Uig-Tarbert triangle.

She also broke the news about funding being found for two new ferries.

She told party colleague Emma Roddick MSP: “Our intention is that these vessels would be deployed on the Skye triangle routes to Lochmaddy and Tarbert delivering dedicated services to these communities in the peak season rather than the shared vessel operation currently in place.

“This will also create the opportunity for significantly increased capacity and resilience for the communities of the Western Isles. It will also deliver an additional vessel overall in the Calmac fleet.”

Earlier, the minister had announced additional funding to enable Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited to “accelerate the procurement of replacement vessels” for the CalMac fleet.

She said: “Today, CMAL has launched a procurement for two additional vessels to be constructed to the same specification as the existing vessels currently under construction for Islay.

“This will significantly accelerate the replacement of the major vessel fleet and also help deliver on our aim of providing a more standardised vessel type that can be used interchangeably on a variety of different routes, providing potential economies of scale and enhanced public value.

“It is expected the contract will be awarded before the end of the year. The overall project costs are estimated at around £115 million, including allowance for minor port improvements.”

The two new ferries will “allow consideration of all options to deploy vessel 802” (under construction in Port Glasgow) on an alternative route, including “alongside her sister ship the MV Glen Sannox on the Arran route” which would provide additional in peak season.

Ms Gilruth added: “Transport Scotland, Calmac and CMAL will of course engage with residents, businesses and communities on the detail of how services and timetables for these additional vessels should be deployed to ensure that their needs and interests will be met.”

Uisdean Robertson, chair of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said: “Our communities deserve better ferry services than we have been getting and this is a major step forward.”

Article by Michael Russell.