Since March, SNP MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Alasdair Allan, has been raising community concerns about liquid petroleum gas (LPG) supplies to the Western Isles during the proposed closure of Uig pier this winter.
The islands' MSP has written twice to the Transport Minister and asked the First Minister directly in the chamber about this issue, as well as continuing to raise some of the affected communities' additional concerns about the impact Uig pier's 6-month closure could have.
Parts of Uig pier require replacement, having come to the end of their life, and improvements are also needed to the structure to make it suitable for the use by new vessels.
At present, vehicles carrying dangerous goods to the Western Isles can do so on MV Loch Seaforth, MV Hebrides and MV Lord of the Isles. During the disruption (due to begin in October), MV Hebrides will not travel between Uig and Lochmaddy/Tarbert, but will instead travel only from Lochmaddy to Ullapool. While many goods which would usually travel from Uig to Tarbert/Lochmaddy will be able to move to using the Ullapool-Stornoway sailings, this isn't possible for goods such as LPG on the MV Loch Seaforth daytime sailings.
According to CalMac, the MCA will not provide an exemption for goods such as LPG to be carried on the daytime sailings from Ullapool to Stornoway without severely restricting passenger numbers due to the option of the overnight freight service being available for use on this route. Gleaner had previously indicated that using the overnight freight service would be unviable for them due to regulations such as Driving Hours and the Working Time Directive rightly needing to be adhered to.
However, the company has now assured the Western Isles MSP that, while not ideal, they will use the overnight freight services in order to continue to supply customers is the islands throughout the winter. The extra costs and time needed to complete Gleaner's deliveries will, according to the company, unfortunately result in less journeys and longer lead times for island customers.
Commenting, Allan said: "I have been contacted by a number of concerned constituents recently regarding the supply of LPG to the islands' homes, schools, hotels, airport and care homes this winter after they were contacted by Gleaner about the current disruption period arrangements. I have been in touch with both Gleaner and the Transport Minister on behalf of my constituents about this issue specifically to seek their assurances about ensuring the continued reliability of LPG deliveries.
"Since March, I have been engaging with the Transport Minister to raise the numerous challenges of trying to combine the traffic from two ferries into one, and while LPG deliveries will be able to be transported on the overnight freight sailing, I continue to be concerned in general about the interim arrangements currently in place for the period when Uig pier will be closed.
"During a winter which will already be extremely difficult for many in the islands due to the soaring cost of living, it is vital that consumers are assured that their LPG supplies for heating their homes, public buildings and local businesses are able to reliably arrive when needed throughout this necessary period of disruption."
Allan has also this week lodged a written question requesting an update from Transport Scotland as to when the timetable proposals for the closure period will be confirmed, after being submitted by CalMac in May for approval.