Meeting increased demand on Islay ferries deemed ‘unaffordable’

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Competition for space on Islay’s ferries will be even hotter this summer, the island’s ferry group warns, unless CalMac heeds its advice to increase capacity in the face of rising ‘record’ demand.

At Islay Community Council’s most recent meeting, it was revealed that CalMac and Transport Scotland had so far rejected a case by Islay Community Council Ferry Committee (ICCFC) to put more sailings on the summer 2022 timetable.

Instead, capacity remains frozen at last summer’s levels, despite evidence of increasing demand from hauliers, distilleries, contractors and visitors this year, on top of the needs of locals.

The ICCFC’s vice chairman Jim Porteous first thanked CalMac for ‘doing its best’ for the island, keeping ferries sailing this winter while crews were off sick with Covid.

He then updated on the December meeting, about the summer 2022 timetable, with its convener Islay McEachern, Argyll and Bute MSP Jenni Minto and CalMac’s managing director Robbie Drummond.

‘In June we were given three weeks to say what we wanted for the summer 2022 timetable,’ Mr Porteous said. ‘It took six months to come back to us. All that time seems to have been wasted. By the time it came out in December, it was a fait accompli.

‘Transport Scotland has rejected our case for extra capacity. It is going to give us, at this moment, exactly what it gave us last year. That is not enough.

‘The distilleries are currently forecasting 24.7 per cent in production growth. One of the major hauliers on the island has increased block bookings by 10 per cent, which equals about 50 car spaces every week.’

If Covid travel restrictions continue to ease, he added, Continental visitors would return too.

‘Even CalMac has gone public saying it is expecting record volumes. In relation to Islay, it has gone up by approximately four per cent per year for the last 10 years. So it must be more.

‘It says to us: “You are getting two new ferries. This is a temporary situation.” Each will give us an extra 40 per cent in capacity. Well, the new ferries are probably not going to be operating on our route until 2025. So we have got quite a stretch between times.

‘We will be asking where the extra space is going to come from, because something has to give. We have to convince them this is reality.’

Mr McEachern said: ‘I do not think they really took us seriously with the numbers.’

He listed many new works including new distilleries at Farkin and Port Ellen, an expansion at Caol Ila and the Bowmore Water Mains Improvement.

‘There is going to be a lot of contractors,’ he said. ‘Tourists have to get on. The community has to get on.

‘We have this increase in 24.7 per cent [in distillery production]. It’s massive. Put it all together on top of what we had last year and it just does not stack up. We have to go round the table again and hopefully get some additional capacity.’

A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: ‘CalMac considered in detail the requests put forward by the Islay Ferry Committee for the summer 2022 timetable.

‘However this concluded that services are already operating at maximum capacity within a complex operated environment meaning any additional services are unaffordable and the Kennacraig-Islay timetable will remain the same for summer 2022.’