Help Protest Against fewer Ferries to Port Ellen

The number of articles I've published on this blog about the Scottish Ferries Review is an almost endless list and they were either speculations of a possible outcome, opinions from the Ileach Newspaper or articles from the Scottish Government regarding the procedure of the Ferries Review and the relevant doucments. The title of this article shows that things are about to change and not for the better so please bear with me.

Let me take you back to the beginning. A few years ago the Scottish Government started the Scottish Ferries Review: "Scotland’s island communities make a substantial contribution to the social, cultural and economic wellbeing of our nation. Ferry links to these islands and our remote communities are therefore an integral part of Scotland’s transport network. That is why we have placed so much importance on carrying out the Scottish Ferries Review."

The Ferries Review so far:
The Scottish Government tried to ensure that the focus of the Review was on the cost of the ferry services, the level and type of services, who is responsible for providing these services and are they done in the most environmentally friendly way. The Ferries Review Consultation Document from 2010 asked for opinions about how ferry services could be delivered in the future. The outcome was written down in a Draft Ferries Plan for which consultation followed later that year. At the end of 2011 the "Final Draft Plan for Consultation" was published and again the government asks for your opinion to finalise the Draft and to create a Final Plan for the next ten years, which is a long time making this a very important phase in the whole process. Continue reading....

Scottish Ferries draft plan options for next decade published
The Scottish Ferries Review is now complete and the Scottish Government is seeking feedback from local communities on the draft Ferries Plan. Minister for Housing and Transport, Keith Brown said: “The long term future of ferry services in Scotland is vital not only for Scotland’s economic wellbeing but also for the people in our island and remote communities. As a Government we are absolutely determined and committed over the next decade to delivering on a progressive basis improved ferry services, and the draft Ferries Plan focuses on the things that we know matter most to our communities.

“We want to build on the momentum generated by our recent announcement to extend the Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) during the lifetime of the current Parliament, and the draft Ferries Plan provides a raft of further positive proposals. We believe the RET underpins the way forward for ferry fares and we plan to replace the current route specific nature of fare setting with RET as the basis for fares for passengers and cars.

“The draft Ferries Plan sets out a way ahead - focussing on making connections better, improving reliability and journey times, and maximising opportunities for communities to thrive. We have proposed more vessels and more services across extended operating days, looked at how best to fund and procure services, how we can deliver ferry services in more environmentally friendly ways, and crucially - getting the most for every pound of taxpayers’ money invested.

“We will also willingly take on more responsibility for lifeline ferry services. We are keen to work with Local Authorities currently providing lifeline services who would seek to transfer responsibility to Scottish Government. This could potentially be beneficial in improving both local ferry services and infrastructure, and direct resources more effectively.”

An overview of the proposals relating to Islay and Jura - some of the key phrases by the Ileach:
The review says: “The needs based assessment for the service from Islay suggested that the current service profile exceeds that for a model service. The mainland services have recently benefited from significant investment with the new vessel, the MV Finlaggan. The facilities at Port Askaig, Port Ellen and Kennacraig have also benefited from an ongoing investment programme.”

A Transport Scotland household survey apparently showed that the residents of Jura access their services on the Scottish mainland and the review wishes to ensure that residents of Jura have “equal access to the Scottish mainland set of services. We have looked at a number of options that would improve accessibility for Jura to the mainland.

No summer ferry service between mainland and Jura
“One of the underlying principles of this Draft Ferries Plan is to strengthen the existing network rather than procure new routes. Funding a direct summer-only service such as the current service between Craighouse and Tayvallich would not be cost effective.”

The proposal for residents of Jura is to offer no cost fares on the current service between Islay and Jura, when this journey is part of an onward journey to the mainland. Fare levels would continue to apply for trips from Jura to Islay that do not involve onward travel to the mainland. Thus the cost of travel to the mainland would be the same whether a person is resident on Islay or Jura.

More services to Port Askaig, Less to Port Ellen
After the current work at Port Ellen is complete the Review says “it is intended to run more services from Port Askaig and fewer services from Port Ellen than was the case before the suspension of services from Port Ellen.” Port Ellen is recognised as “an important facility for grain delivery and storage. We will run enough services to ensure that it continues to operate effectively and contributes to the local economy. But in shifting the balance of services to Port Askaig we are recognising Port Askaig’s ideal geographical location for both the communities of Islay and Jura.”

The proposals for Jura would be implemented at the time of the next tender for the Clyde and Hebridean Ferry service in 2013. In the meantime financial support will be provided for the summer-only service between Craighouse and Tayvallich. Financial support for this service will cease once these proposals have been implemented.

What the Ferry Users Group has to say:
An inaugural meeting of the Islay Ferry Users Group was held with Alice Stewart of ICC in the chair and an invited group of stakeholders representing distilling, agricultural, haulage, tourism and wider community interests. A précis of the main issues pertaining to Islay was presented with the stated aim of compiling a group response to the draft Scottish Ferries Review to Transport Scotland prior to the March 2012 deadline for submissions.

Current services for Islay exceeds that for a model service
Concerns were expressed over the statement in the Review saying: “the current service profile (of ferries to Islay) exceeds that for a model service”. Islay is the only route in the CalMac network to be so described and this has inevitably increased the level of concern over the retention of the two vessel service that has served Islay since 2006. The Ferries Review categorises ferry services on the level of ‘dependencies’ pertaining to the communities they serve, and for some bizarre reason Islay only qualifies for two of the four such categories, namely freight and tourism. According to the Review, the island is not dependent on the ferry for personal services such as food, healthcare and education. Clarification will be sought on this.

There is no consideration in the Ferries Review of the 'carrying capacity' of the current vessels. It was suggested at the FUG that there is a danger that it will be argued that the island could be served by the Finlaggan alone, reducing the number of sailings. The Review does argue however that Mull and Arran now each require two boat services, a welcome departure from the historical drive for increasing capacity on routes by simply building larger vessels. There were proposals tabled saying that the two vessel service to Islay must be retained at all costs. It was stated that the key drivers for this argument must come from the distilling, agricultural and heavy haulage sectors which undertook to provide suitable statistical support for this position.

Mixed feelings about RET
The confirmation that an RET pilot will commence to Islay had a mixed reception. Hard facts about its effect on fares to Islay are not available, but many argued that while it may boost tourism, the benefits to the local population are not currently apparent. Haulage interests were particularly critical claiming that because RET will not apply to commercial traffic there will be very substantial increases in both general freight charges and the costs of transporting livestock. All existing discounts will be discontinued.

My two Pennies' worth:
At the above meeting was a strong representation from Port Ellen objecting to the proposal to reduce the number of sailings to that village and increase sailings to Port Askaig. No wonder, just when things started to look bright for Port Ellen. The new hotel generates business and is very important for the fragile community of Port Ellen. The Scottish Government spends millions on the new pier and that same Government recognised the development needs of South Islay and they have appointed and funded a South Islay Development Officer. Taking away the ferry, which is the biggest source of financial benefit to the area, would be a very bad move for this part of Islay.

Help Port Ellen - Action is Needed!
So far the plans are draft but if there is no strong opposition the draft will become final and Port Ellen will lose a lot of ferry traffic. That's why you have to raise your voice and vote against these plans by taking part in the Consultation Survey and the Petition.

Act Now!

The community of Port Ellen and surrounding area will greatly appreciate your help!

Tag: consultation petition ferries review ferry calmac