Comhairle highlights ‘urgent need’ for investment in new ferries
There is an “urgent need” for the Scottish Government to invest in new ferries to ensure the sustainability of island communities, according to Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.
In a letter sent to Islands Minister Paul Wheelhouse, the Comhairle warned that new ferries are needed to replace an ageing fleet, with two new ferries being required in addition to the two ferries already being built at the Ferguson Marine Engineering yard on the Clyde.
Responding to the claims, a Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We recognise the need to increase fleet resilience and are continuing to invest in new vessels and ferry infrastructure to renew the fleet. Ministers and officials have had positive discussions with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and we will continue to engage on these important issues.
“We have already commissioned a study of options for the long-term sustainability of Outer Hebrides ferry services, which will report this summer, and plans are in hand to review the Ferries Plan as part of Transport Scotland’s on-going Strategic Transport Projects Review.
“Despite a £1.9 billion real term funding reduction by the UK Government since 2010, Scottish Ministers have invested over £1.4 billion in our ferry services and infrastructure since 2007. This included new routes, new vessels, upgraded harbour infrastructure, as well as the roll out of significantly reduced fares through the Road Equivalent Tariff scheme.”
The Comhairle’s Chair of Transportation and Infrastructure, Cllr Uisdean Robertson, recently met representatives of shipbuilders, Strategic Marine, to explore new designs for ferries which the Comhairle says may provide a faster and more economical build for future vessels.
In February, Strategic Marine launched a new twin-hulled ferry for Pentland Ferries serving the Orkney Islands.
Robertson said: “Comhairle nan Eilean Siar have had very positive discussions with Ministers and we know they understand the damage technical difficulties with aging ferries can have on fragile island economies. We want to work constructively with Government to overcome this threat and believe the proposal we outlined on the Strategic Marine design is worthy of serious consideration.
“We must not lose sight of the fact that the purpose of these ferries is to serve lifeline routes to islands as well as being an enabler for economic development for which I know Scottish Government shares our enthusiasm.”