Ferries, flights and following a subsea tunnel option are the topics which should be top of the agenda for Scotland’s new Transport Minister, says Isles MP Angus MacNeil.
Mr MacNeil has written to newly appointed Jenny Gilruth MSP congratulating her on her new role and stressing the need to engage closely with island communities to address the many transport issues facing his constituency.
In his letter, Mr MacNeil stated: “Many congratulations on your new role as Transport Minister and I expect that we will engage regularly on transport issues affecting the Hebrides.
“You will be aware of the many transport problems in Na h-Eileanan an Iar which are continuing to cause problems and challenges for my constituents.
“Decisions on transport issues affecting the islands are regularly made by people with little or no island experience and I hope that is a matter which can be looked at.”
He highlighted the most recent case of the drive by HIAL to centralise Air Traffic Control which was a long and challenging battle by island communities to make their voices heard. This culminated in the recent withdrawal of the plans which would have led to job losses and service problems to lifeline services.
On the issue of ferries, Mr MacNeil’s letter stated: “Island communities have also spoken loudly and clearly about the issues facing the ferry network, the network which is of vital importance for the local economy and for the quality of island life. Ferries are not just a gateway to the islands for travel to and fro, but are also the pathway for food and household supplies, building materials and much more. They are also the main source of travel for work, healthcare appointments and also school and community groups travelling to compete in mainland competitions and events.
“The Scottish Government has been contacted by myself, my colleague Alasdair Allan MSP, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and a large number of community groups and organisations many, many times over the last few months and years.
“The issues are regarding timetables, ferry capacity, booking windows and disruption to services.
“Consultation has been carried out by Calmac with communities but there is real feeling amongst islanders that their voices are not being heard or listened to.
“I hope that you can commit to engaging with the people of Na h-Eileanan an Iar on transport issues which affect them in every aspect of their lives. Our ferry and air links are not just travel for leisure but are lifeline services which we need to get right for island communities.”
He added: “Finally, I was extremely pleased to hear that Scottish Government are actively looking at the feasibility of tunnels on the sounds of Harris and Barra, as well as a tunnel link between Mull and the mainland, this could be transformative for the west coast of Scotland and, if you can as Transport Minister, I would urge you to visit the Faroe Islands and see the three undersea tunnels there as well as the fourth currently being constructed, not to mention the legion of normal tunnels they have which would serve the “Rest and be Thankful” problem.
“I look forward to seeing these plans move forward and wish you well in your post.”