There are currently around 1200 Community Councils. They are designed to bridge the gap between local authorities and communities, and help to make public bodies aware of the opinions and needs of the communities they represent. The latter is how we arrive at the winner of the “Community Councils” category from the Rural Innovators Award.
Sleat Transport Forum, a sub-group of Sleat Community Council (Isle of Skye) came out on top in the public vote, following a year-long and continuing campaign to return a robust and reliable ferry service to the Sound of Sleat route from Mallaig to Armadale, operated by Calmac Ferries Ltd. The Transport Forum was setup in 2014 with its principal aims to champion public transport issues to, from and within the peninsula, including ferry services, trains, buses and coach travel.
Transport Scotland took the decision in September 2015 to redeploy MV Coruisk, after 12 years of summer service on the Mallaig-Armadale route to the Oban to Craignure (Mull) service. This decision saw Sleat Transport Forum become even more active in not only their local area, but on a wider national scale. The Forum argued that in the 12 years MV Coruisk had operated on the Skye route, it had helped grow demand on the service year on year, and they felt that the ships brought in to replace MV Coruisk were “not fit for purpose”. Trying to convince Calmac Ferries Ltd and Transport Scotland of this, proved to be the biggest challenge the group faced.
The summer of 2016 saw over 400 cancellations on the Mallaig-Armadale route for numerous reasons (technical/tidal), and less coaches and commercial trucks than in previous years, down by 15% and 41% respectively on the same period in 2015. The Forum believe that the Sleat Peninsula rely on the ferry service being a key economic driver for communities on either side of the Sound of Sleat, and the effects of a degradation in ferry service could potentially result in job-losses, depopulation and a fading tourist industry, with businesses in the area reporting to local press that their takings were down substantially against the summer of 2015.
The campaign itself, whilst not successful in being able to return the “Coruisk” to Mallaig-Armadale route for summer of 2016, was able to find positives. The Forum brought together 7 key stakeholders from the Sleat community to work together to campaign for a better ferry service. These stakeholders were made up of business owners, ferry users and tourism providers, all of whom gave their time and expertise to petition Calmac and Transport Scotland. The extent of their campaign has been covered extensively in the media, both locally and nationally to raise awareness of the importance of a reliable ferry service with appropriate capacity to meet its traffic demands.
Looking to the future, the summer of 2017 will see MV Lord of the Isles operate the Mallaig to Armadale crossing, along with MV Loch Fyne, which will have it’s ramps adjusted to allow berthing at both ports. MV Coruisk will remain on it’s summer 2016 route, providing vital assistance on the busy Oban-Craignure service.
Kate Forbes MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch expressed her disappointment that Coruisk was not returning to Sleat for summer of 2017, however did welcome progress in the form of MV Loch Fyne and the alterations required to make it possible to operate on the route, and stated that she would be watching, along with Sleat Transport Forum, how well the replacement vessel operates on the route, with a promise that if there was “the slightest hint of disruption experienced last summer”, she would be in contact with the Transport Minister Humza Yousaf, who has also promised to keep a close eye on the service. This promise was made at a recent meeting in Edinburgh between representatives from Sleat Transport Forum, community leaders from Mallaig and the Transport Minister, with a view of a regular round table meeting with those present, along with Calmac, Transport Scotland and the Port Authorities.
With Calmac’s Summer ferry timetable in operation from last Friday the 30th of March, time will only tell if the “fixes” put in place are necessary to change the opinions of those affected, and hopefully will see more tourists taking a break on Skye. Whilst not succeeding in their initial goal, the publicity both locally and nationally has shown that progress can be made when it comes to facing up to “giants” in industry and government.
Blog by Chris Kinloch
Sleat Community Council input from Rob Ware
Quotes & image from “Sleat Community Council” Facebook site
Next time around, we will be looking at our winners from Cowal in our “Health & Wellbeing” category, be sure to check it out on 20th April.