District News, July 29 2022

The Port Ellen Terminal Development project has been established to coordinate the harbour upgrade.
Port Ellen Ferry Terminal on Islay.

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Fears both of Islay’s ports won’t be ready for new ferries

Islanders are worried both of Islay’s ferry ports will not be ready in time for the two new, bigger CalMac ferries due to arrive in 2024.

Port Ellen and Port Askaig need an upgrade to fit the MV Finlaggan’s replacement vessels, which will bring an almost 40 per cent increase in vehicle and freight capacity.

The owner of Port Ellen Ferry Terminal, Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL), has just ended a consultation on design options for its development project.

The plans will expand the vehicle marshalling area, parking, improve port operations for commercial use, improve passenger access to vessels and deliver a new terminal building.

A business case report will be submitted to Transport Scotland for a decision in autumn 2022.

But Islay Community Council’s ferry committee say it has been ‘impossible to obtain any information about options and timelines’ for Port Askaig’s upgrade, from its owner Argyll and Bute Council.

At a meeting of Islay Community Council this month, its ferry committee again highlighted concerns regarding the readiness of Port Askaig modification work.

Committee secretary Jim Porteous said it was trying to help get Islay’s two ports, Port Ellen and Port Askaig, ready for the two new CalMac ferries coming in 2024.

‘Port Askaig port is owned by Argyll and Bute Council,’ said Mr Porteous, ‘and we are getting absolutely nowhere with the council on this.

‘We have been trying since February to have a meeting with them to discuss exactly what their plans are for the parking and marshalling area to accommodate the higher volumes.

‘We haven’t been told anything concrete whatsoever. We have been told there are top secret discussions going on between them and a landowner and they can’t tell us anything.

‘But we have an obligation to the community to actually let them know that something is happening, to let them know that it is do-able within the timescales.

‘We know the Port Ellen work is not going to be completed by the time the new ferries arrive. So having Port Askaig ready is all the more important. We do have to start banging the drum more loudly with the council to get more information on this.’

A report from the ferry committee’s meeting in June added: ‘So far it has been impossible to obtain any information from Argyll and Bute Council regarding the options and timelines for shoreside work at Port Askaig to enable handling of the full vehicle capacity of the new ships.

‘Clearly, the community needs to know as soon as possible whether or not this is viable. If so, what is the likely completion timescale? If not, what is the contingency?’

An Argyll and Bute Council spokesperson commented: ‘The council is committed to delivering significant infrastructure improvements on Islay to benefit this vital service for residents and visitors.

‘We recognise the Port Askaig Ferry Terminal upgrades are required before the arrival of the new vessels and are working with key partners to achieve this. Our aim is to have Port Askaig ready to receive the new vessels on their arrival.’

Funding boost for island rangers

Islay Development Initiative (IDI) is one of several Argyll conservation groups to receive extra funds.

NatureScot has handed out around £1.5 million to conservation groups across Scotland.

IDI received more than £20,000 to fund seasonal rangers, who will be tasked with helping visitors camp responsibly, including offering help and advice about island waste disposal and recycling services.

The extra volunteers will also carry out litter picking and give information on Islay amenities.

A number of Hebridean islands also received funding.

‘This staffing boost to support the management of Scotland’s busiest and most popular natural and scenic areas is great news for everyone this summer,’ said a NatureScot spokesperson. ‘Scotland’s landscapes and wildlife are one of our biggest visitor attractions.

‘With this investment, we can connect people with nature, while ensuring we protect and respect the places we visit.’