Transport Scotland recently met with us to begin the process of planning for the replacement of the MV Isle of Mull. Regardless of the outcome of our efforts to have the catamaran introduced (on that, there is no further news yet), our 34-year-old main ferry is long overdue for renewal. The process of planning, procuring and building a new ferry can be long. To give an example – a new vessel for Islay was announced in 2018; it is currently in the planning stages and is due for delivery in mid 2024 – so from inception to delivery it will take around six years, and we should expect a similar timescale for Mull.
The replacement of Craignure Pier may also have a bearing on the timing of the new vessel. Depending on the chosen ferry design, it may not be able to operate until a new pier is built in Craignure. The timetable for that is not confirmed, but is likely to be in the region of 7 – 10 years.
So this is a very long-term plan! But key strategic decisions will be taken very early in the process, and we want to make sure that those decisions are made in the best interests of the users who depend on our lifeline service. Whatever is delivered will determine the shape our main ferry service for the next 30 – 40 years. We are served now by a ferry that was conceived in the early 1980s, and the new ferry(ies) delivered at the end of this decade could be in service until 2070.
We have already done a lot of ground work on this, through consultation like our 2019 Users’ Survey, and our investigation of the catamaran issue. It was gratifying that in our initial meeting with TS, our user’s survey had been read and digested, and was already informing TS of what users’ priorities are. We will need to do more however – it is essential that users’ needs are paramount in in the process. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the procurement and consultation process for recent new vessels has not resulted in the best outcome – and we are determined that is not repeated here.
So very soon we will launch a new survey that we hope will capture what the communities’ needs, aspirations and priorities are for a new ferry service for Mull. We have an opportunity – and a need – to start with a blank sheet of paper, and design the best service, not just the best ferry. In the meantime, if you have any views or comments on this big topic, do email us, or speak to any of our members.