Fate of new Jura ferry going in Whitehall’s hands

The MV Eilean Dhiura, a lifeline ferry service run by Argyll and Bute Council between Feolin on Jura and Port Askaig on Islay, which connects both islands to the mainland.

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Jura’s ferry is ‘not fit for purpose’ and ‘has to be replaced’, the leader of Argyll and Bute Council has said.

Kintyre and the Islands councillor Robin Currie, the authority’s leader, has beseeched the UK Government for funding for a new £9 million vessel and pier upgrades.

A bid to the Levelling Up Fund, due to be submitted next week, was rubber-stamped at a meeting of the full council on Thursday June 30.

The bid will be made in two parts – a regeneration bid for projects in Rothesay and Dunoon, and a transportation bid for the area’s Whisky Islands and the North Lorn Economic Growth Zone. Together they could see up to £70million awarded.

Councillor Robin Currie gave the bid his support, saying: ‘These are ambitious bids, but they are absolutely essential projects if we want Argyll and Bute to move forward.

‘Taking a local example of the Jura ferry, the number of people coming to Jura has risen considerably over the last 12 to 18 months.

‘The present ferry is simply not fit for purpose, so it has to be replaced. We are not talking about ‘icing on the cake’ projects here – they are absolutely ‘bread and butter’ projects.

‘I never tire of saying this, but every year, there is £600-700million going from Argyll and Bute to the Treasury. We are not even looking for a 10th of a year’s contribution here.

‘If you are listening to this recording, UK Government, give us what we are asking for.’

A report before councillors said the Whisky Islands and the North Lorn Economic Growth Zone ‘are linked by their significant economic and population growth potential, which is held back by a lack of modern transport infrastructure’.

‘In terms of Islay and Jura, the whisky (spirits) industry continues to expand with a doubling of production levels of existing distilleries and new distilleries coming forward, including two distilleries being constructed at Port Ellen,’ says the report.

‘This expansion also supports the parallel growth of the tourism industry and has placed a significant strain on the islands’ economic infrastructure.

‘The focus on the bid is around the capacity of the Jura Ferry and its replacement with a larger capacity but lower carbon vessel together with improved port side facilities.

‘Improvements to Port Askaig (a council-owned asset) will also assist with the need to have greater capacity at Islay’s ports to cope with larger ferries commissioned by the Scottish government.

‘This has also influenced the need to improve the key arterial road routes of Islay that connect both ferry terminals.’

The bid aims to improve the B8016 as a dedicated freight use for HGVs, and improve active travel routes adjacent to the A846, which will be prioritised for resident and visitor traffic.

The transport bid for the North Lorn Economic Growth Zone focuses on Oban, Dunbeg, Connel and Mull.

‘Elements of the bid include a contribution to the development of the Dunbeg Corridor with the construction of the half way roundabout, and associated link road to a proposed commercial area,’ the report said.

‘This will help enable the construction of a new link road to create a secondary access to Dunbeg to help enable a further phase of housing intended to be mixed tenure.

‘It is estimated at this stage that in excess of 400 additional houses could be created.

‘Two hydrogen buses to serve local communities together with a green hydrogen fuelling station will be built in Oban, working in partnership with Green Power.

‘A further element involves the development of a UAV Hub at Oban Airport, expanding on what is already envisaged.

‘A bid of £50m is considered exceptional by the UK Government but the council considers that this scale of investment is critical to the future success of both these areas.

‘The UK Levelling Up Fund is a highly competitive fund and there is no guarantee for success.’

It is expected the UK Government will make a decision in the autumn.