The vital role of good air and sea links for the Islands was a focus for meetings between UK Transport Minister Liz Sugg with local council and business leaders yesterday and today (Tuesday-Wednesday August 14-15th).

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar also used the first meeting which was held at Stornoway Airport to raise concerns regarding air traffic management under Highland and Islands Airports Ltd proposals for centralisation.

One of the businesspeople she met was Jamie McGowan, co-founder of Essence of Harris in Tarbert, who said on Twitter: “Thank you to Baroness Sugg for a fantastic meeting today.”

She also met Ranald Fraser of Stornoway Smokehouse (pictured above) during a visit to their Stornoway portside premises.  Ranald said he drew attention to the vital need for reliable air links for a business which exported products across the world, particularly to Italy but also to other European countries and places like Hong Kong as well.

Liz Sugg said she welcomed the chance to learn about transport issues as they affected the Islands, and also to see some of the facilities for tourists and visitors.  Earlier today (Wednesday) she visited the newly restored Lews Castle and the new Museum nan Eilean. 

Tuesday’s meeting also involved representatives from Hotel Hebrides and Harris Tweed Hebrides.  Jamie McGowan said he had promoted the idea of collaboration between Island businesses as well as drawing attention to the need for good transport links both by air and sea. 

Baroness Sugg was in Stornoway as part of a continuing Scottish campaign which has seen her in Aberdeen, Inverness and Glasgow in recent weeks to promote the benefits of the Heathrow Airport expansion and the knock-on beneficial effects of that project. 

The Minister explained that the expansion will deliver more capacity for domestic flights, with 100 more flights expected to and from Scotland.

The UK Government has confirmed it is prepared to intervene to reserve slots at Heathrow for flights to airports in nations and regions around the UK if expansion goes ahead.

Public Service Obligations (PSOs) will be put in place by the UK government to protect routes if required, which would also exempt them from Air Passenger Duty.

It would mark the first time that flights from Heathrow to regional airports have been safeguarded, offering reassurance to people living around the UK. The government wants about 15% of the new capacity at an expanded Heathrow to be used for domestic flights.  And it comes as the government confirms that Scotland can expect to benefit from an extra 100 flights a week to and from Heathrow if a third runway is built.

The Comhairle said it welcomed the opportunity to meet with Baroness Sugg, UK Government Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport

Councillor Uisdean Robertson, Chairman of the Comhairle’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said after the meeting, “We were pleased to be able to meet with Baroness Sugg as we were able to raise our concerns regarding Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd’s proposals for air traffic management arrangements for the region”.

“We have ongoing concerns regarding the impact that their centralisation strategy will have on the local economy of the Western Isles – with a total of 17 highly paid jobs being lost from Stornoway and Benbecula airports, this will undoubtedly have a disproportionate impact for our community compared to mainland airports. 

“We have raising this as a major concern with the Scottish Government and HIAL since June 2017 and it appears that insufficient cognisance is being taken of the negative impact”.

“We look forward to further engagement by the UK and Scottish Governments and HIAL in this matter, particularly in the context of the principle of “islands proofing” which has been incorporated in the recently enacted Islands (Scotland) Act 2018”.

Baroness Sugg, CBE, is served as Head of Operations at 10 Downing Street under the premiership of David Cameron.  She was nominated for a life peerage in the 2016 Prime Minister's Resignation Honours and was created Baroness Sugg, of Coldharbour in the London Borough of Lambeth, on 30 August 2016

She was appointed Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Transport (and minister for aviation) on 27 October 2017 replacing Lord Callanan.