A petition signed by more than 35,000 people and launched by Harris councillor Grant Fulton, seeking a change of mind on plans to leave Tarbert without a ferry service for six months, is to be presented to Scottish Government next week.
Highland Council is to close Uig port while upgrade work is carried out in expectation of delivery of a new ferry on the Uig triangle route.
And while Lochmaddy is to have a service to Ullapool during the period that Uig is closed, Tarbert has been left without any service at all between October this year and April 2023, passengers expected instead to cross the Clisham and travel to and from Stornoway.
The likely winter experience of Harris ferry-users was vividly highlighted earlier this month when a technical problem with firefighting equipment on the regular vessel left Tarbert without a ferry service for several days.
Since that wave of ferry technical issues and cancellations, signatories on the petition have jumped from the 8,200 we reported on 9 August (https://www.welovestornoway.com/index.php/articles-auto-3/25349-transport-minister-avoiding-ferries-crisis-lib-dems) to an astonishing 36,000 today (Tuesday 23 August).
This afternoon Cllr Fulton said: “We have been running the petition for a few weeks now, the planned Uig closure is due to take place in October.
“We are taking the decision to close off the petition next week to enable us to submit to Holyrood. If anyone wishes to sign to support us this is the final chance. Thanks to everyone who has signed.”
The petition at https://www.change.org/p/save-our-lifeline-ferry-service asks for a reversal of plans to take Tarbert out of the ferry service network when Uig port closes for upgrade works in October.
It says: “Despite numerous meetings and consultations Transport Scotland are continuing with this closure.
“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.”
Signatories have been explaining their reasons for putting their names to the petition.
One island resident said: “I am signing this petition because I feel islanders’ needs have not been taken into consideration regarding the closure of Uig pier.
“This outrageous situation is entirely down to poor planning and lack of foresight and must not be allowed to happen. Alternative arrangements have been put forward by the Harris community and have been totally ignored.”
And another wrote: “I'm signing because I have family on the mainland that I visit regularly, and they visit me.
“The Scottish government have no right to withdraw our ferry service and treat us like second class citizens. It’s their fault the new ferries aren't ready.”
And the economic case was explained by another, who said: “I'm signing because Harris needs a strong reliable ferry connection all year round.
“Winter is an important time for shellfish buyers to purchase the catch and export to European markets. If this industry is to exist reliable connections are essential.
“Without them, buyers will simply go elsewhere. There are many other reasons, but to me this is an important one.”