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Highland Council Committee discussed future of Corran Ferry service

1st July 2020

Photograph of Highland Council Committee discussed future of Corran Ferry service

Earlier today (Wednesday 1 July 2020) members of The Highland Council's Economy and Infrastructure Committee had the opportunity to discuss (by video conference) progress made with the Corran Ferry Project which is reviewing the options for securing a replacement ferry and considering the way forward for the future operation and management of the service.

The Corran ferry service has reached a critical point and strategic decisions need to be made. Following discussions at the Committee today, Councillors have confirmed their position and asked officers to advise Transport Scotland that the Council it is interested in a transfer of the service based on the principles set out in the Scottish Ferries Plan.

The outline business case prepared by the project team and discussed by the committee today focuses on the immediate problems with the ferry service and looks at plans to get a larger replacement vessel and the supporting infrastructure in place to ensure a sustainable service can continue until such time that a fixed link is built.

The existing ferry is reaching the end of its useful life and the backup ferry is 50 years old. Several tens of millions of capital are required for a new ferry. The alternative of a bridge may take several years to achieve with significant help from Scottish Government required. (For Caithnessians think how long it has taken to get anything done at Berrydale Braes)

Chair of the Committee, Councillor Trish Robertson said: "Matters have been coming to a head over the provision of this life-line ferry service for some years. We are now at a point where a critical decision is needed as any delay in making a strategic choice to invest or transfer the service could result in its failure.

"The report presented to the Committee highlights that all the options, short-term and long-term, for securing a reliable and fit for purpose connection across the Corran Narrows require significant investment. With a fixed link potentially taking decades to come on stream, a larger replacement ferry is needed now. However, with the council under significant budget pressure, funding support will be needed from the Scottish Government. The decision taken today to approach Transport Scotland about the transfer of the service is a step forward."

Earlier this week, Lochaber Councillors had the chance to discuss the issue during their local Committee.

Lochaber Councillor Allan Henderson, Chair of HITRANS who with Highland Council and Highlands and Islands Enterprise funded the Fixed Link Outline Feasibility Study said: "The Corran Ferry is the busiest single vessel route in Scotland, providing a lifeline service to the remote communities of Ardnamurchan, Morvern and Mull. The current service, operated with an ageing vessel and limited crew numbers, is no longer sustainable as demand increases, so we need to take action. Doing nothing is not an option.

"The recent feasibility study concluded that the construction of a bridge or tunnel across the Corran Narrows is a viable proposition that certainly deserves more detailed examination. It has been submitted to Transport Scotland for their consideration. Meanwhile we require a new ferry now to ensure this important life-line route can reliably serve our communities. Following our debate today we can now confirm our position which is a positive step in the right direction."

As well as approaching Transport Scotland about the transfer of the service, the Committee agreed that retaining two quarter loader vessels is an overly expensive model and therefore the preferred replacement vessel and slipways option should be a straight through Roll-on/roll-off ferry with a relief second vessel secured from elsewhere. This will remove the constraints on the route once and for all and will deliver economies of scale benefits and is in line with CMAL Ferries operated by Calmac. Support was also given to a 5-year Ferry Plan to ensure that the future of the service is sustainable.

Members also agreed that a Corran Narrows Options Working Group be set up as soon as possible. This will complement the local engagement and consultation already happening in the community which will be continuing.

A link to the Committee Report which includes appendixes to the Feasibility Study and the Corran Ferry Project Outline Business Case is available here (item 7)


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