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Comhairle fully backs South Uist ferry                 8/3/12

Western Isles Council has given its full backing to a new proposed ferry service between Lochboisdale and Mallaig.

The council’s support is vital and will now be input to the Scottish Government’s Ferry Review, which shapes future sea travel routes.

Islanders on South Uist are furious a draft study failed to mark the Mallaig link a strategic objective.

They point out the present service only operates four days a week and says it is the worst lifeline ferry service in Scotland. Changing the destination port from Oban to Mallaig would help regenerate the local community and boost tourism it is said.

They say the shorter route would make it cheaper to bring in supplies to the island like crofting, house building and business imports as well as help fishermen and salmon farmers get to their markets easier and faster.

Presently, South Uist shares a ferry with Barra which, is not a daily service and, when not cancelled in bad weather, takes over seven hours from Oban.

Ten years ago, in September 2002, councillors knocked back a proposal from cllr Donald Manford, now transport chairman, to support Southend Development Group in South Uist to establish the direct shorter route. The motion received no support from the then councillors including the Uist representatives, it was pointed out yesterday (wed)..

Ironically, the South Uist landlord Storas Uibhist scuppered an early chance to put the Mallaig route into the ferry review when it blocked Western Isles Council from consulting the community over the issue in 2008. The council wanted to demonstrate the strong local demand for the proposed service to the first round of the ferry review.

At yesterday’s (wed) transport meeting Cllr Peter Carlin stressed a Mallaig service would provide an essential economic boost.

Mr Carlin said locals knew of the demand for better and quicker sea crossing yet ferry operator Cal Mac was “surprised at the uptake” when two inter-island ferry routes were introduced and soon required larger vessels.

He urged Cal Mac to start keeping note of the number of people it turns away due to full ferries.

He said: “They put a man on the moon yet Cal Mac can’t record” the numbers who would travel if space was available.”