THE SCOTTISH Government has pledged to “consider and re-evaluate” service levels on ferries to and from the Northern Isles.
Islands minister Paul Wheelhouse said the work will be taken forward as part of the government’s next Ferries Plan, which is due to run from 2022.
He was responding to a parliamentary question from Orkney MSP Liam McArthur, who questioned if the government would put on additional sailings to the Northern Isles after reports of extra services being set to operate on CalMac ferry routes to Skye and between North Uist and Harris.
Wheelhouse reiterated that the next Northern Isles ferry contract, which is due to come into effect in the coming months, had in-built flexibility catered to meet changing demand.
It has often been suggested that capacity is a problem on the NorthLink ferries, especially in the summer for passengers and also for freight.
“Transport Scotland have well established means by which we engage with stakeholders regarding communities’ proposals for timetable changes,” Wheelhouse said.
“Recent announcements of a pilot of timetable changes in respect of routes to Skye and between North Uist and Harris have flowed from this process.”
The minister added that it is “clear that lifeline ferry services are fundamental to sustainable and inclusive economic growth in Scotland’s islands, including services to the Orkney Islands and Shetland Islands”.
“That is why work will be taken forward as part of the next Ferries Plan to consider and re-evaluate routes service levels for ferry services to and from the Northern Isles, and I look forward to the member and other stakeholders playing a full part in that process in this future piece of work,” Wheelhouse continued.
The government’s ferries plan forms strategic guidance for the provision of ferry services in Scotland.
The current plan runs from 2013 to 2022.
Councillor Ryan Thomson, who chairs Shetland Islands Council’s environment and transport committee as well as transport partnership ZetTrans, said capacity on the Northern Isles routes continues to be an issue.
“I welcome the minister’s comments regarding re-evaluating routes service levels as the lifeline service for Shetland has been overstretched for a considerable period of time and is stifling economic growth here in Shetland,” he said.
“It is important that not only ZetTrans and the SIC are able to contribute to this, but also local stakeholders here in Shetland whose knowledge on this issue must play a full part in determining a successful outcome for Shetland.”
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