As an on-line protest petition against the suspension of ferry services to Tarbert this coming winter gathers pace, Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan MSP has asked the Scottish Government to explore the practicalities of postponing the Uig Harbour Redevelopment Project.
This is despite the fact that extensive work has already been done around the pier in the past few weeks.
He says:"According to the 2018 Islands Act it is a statutory requirement that an Islands Communities Impact Assessment is carried out to measure the economic impact of such a drastic action.
"The economic impact will be devastating and will deeply affect all areas of our community - businesses, hauliers, shellfish export and personal transport - all elements of our fragile island which is still recovering from the economic impact of the Covid pandemic.
"We are seeking a reversal of this closure by utilising alternative solutions or a delay in the closure until a sensible solution is proposed."
Changes to lifeline ferry routes are planned for a 6-month period from October 2022 while essential infrastructure works are carried out on behalf of the Highland Council on the pier, owned by the local authority.
Proposals, submitted by Calmac Ferries Ltd to Transport Scotland in May, include the removal of the ferry service to Tarbert and the loss of a third of capacity on the rerouted Lochmaddy-Ullapool service.
Alasdair Allan MSP said:“If the Uig Harbour works necessitate the closure of the ferry pier, and alternatives cannot be found to continue ferry services between the Western Isles and Skye, arrangements must be put in place which maintain adequate capacity and resilience.
“The Harris and Uist communities have expressed serious concerns about these issues. A service reduction of this magnitude risks deep and lasting harm to the islands’ economy. I am alarmed by the worries that some key local businesses have expressed to me about this.
“I have repeatedly highlighted the impracticality of combining the traffic and freight from the Tarbert ferry service with the existing run between Stornoway-Ullapool.
“Uist, meanwhile, faces the unbearable reduction of a third of scheduled capacity. Much of the island’s service resilience would depend on the Lochboisdale-Mallaig route, despite merely 21 sailings being completed on this route between November 2021 and March 2022 – the corresponding period of the Uig outage last year.
“I am very concerned that there are so many unknowns around transport arrangements and contingency so close to the planned closure of the pier.
“I have therefore asked the Scottish Government to consider if it is possible to delay the project works to allow more time for viable arrangements to be put in place, either until the same period in 2023-2024, or until additional tonnage can be secured.”