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An impassioned plea has gone to transport minister Jenny Gilruth to act now to end crippling damage being done the economy of Harris by the restrictions on ferry travel to the island.

Kenny Macleod who chairs Harris Development Ltd, said he thanked the Government for the recent announcement of the proposal to provide two new ferries for the Triangle Route. 

"Whilst CMAL have consistently ignored the views of the people here and insisted on going down the one large vessel pathway (hull 802) we are pleased that you have listened to our pleas and have instructed this major U-turn."

But - at the earliest - the ships won't be ready until 2026. "We cannot wait until 2026 and hopefully having the two vessels on the route.  Action is needed now to save our economies.  We had raised concerns this time last year at the proposals for the summer timetable and the imposed reduction in capacity through only making the mezzanine deck available on certain sailings.  We argued that this would mean a reduction in vehicles travelling but CalMac dismissed this. 

"Now that the summer season is over, we were horrified to discover the true impact of reducing the capacity of the vessel.  Using CalMac’s own figures, we have found that they carried just short of 10,000 fewer vehicles (9885 for all types and 9700 for cars) in the June to September period in 2022 than in 2019 – the last full year before Covid. (See attached spreadsheet for fuller list of traffic figures)

Combined traffic figures Uig-Tarbert/Lochmaddy

Traffic Type

2017

2018

2019

2021*

2022

Coaches

260

239

266

97

209

Commercial Vehicles

1829

1908

1863

1944

1735

Cars

40656

39165

40654

35450

30954

Totals

42745

41312

42783

37450

32898

*We were still under Covid restrictions until mid-July 2021

"Even if we take a three-year pre-Covid average and compare that to the 2022 figures it shows 9382 fewer vehicles carried (9204 for cars only).  These are huge reductions and are causing alarm in our communities.  Putting costs on to these makes even more frightening reading. 

"In our submissions to challenge the proposal to reduce the use of the mezzanine deck we used an average contribution to our economy by cars of £1500 (average accommodation cost of £750 and a similar amount spent on food, excursions, craft products, etc). If we allow for around 2000 of the lost traffic to be local vehicles, then the cost would be in the region of £11.55m (7,700 x 1500).

"If we assume that the cars aren’t going to self-caterings but are instead using other accommodation types and staying for an average of 3 nights (accommodation £300, food 150, spend 250 = 700) the figure would be £5.39m.

"Taking an average figure as the reality would be a mix of both then the loss to the communities of Harris and Uist is just short of £8.5m.  That is more than 10 times the cost that CalMac said they would incur for maintaining the service at pre-Covid level. 

"If we now have to wait until 2026 for the two dedicated ferries for our route, we are looking at an overall loss to our fragile economy of just short of £33m.

"CalMac advertise the capacity of the Hebrides as the equivalent of 90 cars.  That equates to close to 110 sailings at full capacity that are lost over a 122 day period – almost 1 sailing a day with no vehicles.

"I am sure that as Transport Minister, looking to maximise the use of expensive publicly funded resources and provide the best possible lifeline service to our communities, you will be equally horrified at these figures.  

"We would urgently ask that you meet with us in order to discuss this deplorable situation and to find a way forward that stops causing irreparable damage to our economy."

The Scottish Government has pumped an additional £150m into the Inverclyde economy to protect the jobs and skilled workforce at Fergusons, the shipyard which is building the long delayed Glen Sannox and Hull 802 . 

"Yet there is a reluctance to even provide £816,000 to protect a similar number of jobs in Harris and Uist and allow a publicly funded asset to be used to its maximum capacity."