Yesterday we delivered the completed Specification of User Requirements (SUR) to the Government department that manages the ferry system, Transport Scotland.
The SUR details the key principles that the design of our new ferry needs to follow in order to satisfy the needs of island users. It has been endorsed by both Mull and Iona Community Councils, Mull & Iona Community Trust, South West Mull & Iona Development and the Craignure Bay Community Group.
It follows a mass public survey we undertook back in June across our islands, and circulation of the draft specification over the past couple of months. Thanks to everyone who responded and contributed to it.
Our objective is to make our requirements clear, and ensure that the vessels that are delivered offer the best possible service in terms of reliability, frequency, length of operation and capacity. In order to achieve those things, a lot of emphasis needs to be placed on productivity and efficiency, so that the additional services we need are as affordable as possible.
There is a view on many islands who have been recipients of new vessels recently (or are due them soon), that what has been delivered is not what they wanted. The central criticism has been that whilst communities needed a larger number of smaller vessels, what was delivered is a small number of very large vessels. Take for example the Loch Seaforth, operating between Ullapool and Stornoway – islanders on Lewis wanted two smaller vessels, because they could see that would give them higher capacity, more sailings, and more reliability. Instead they got one large ferry, that delivers just two departures per day, and then runs an overnight freight service that used to be operated by a separate vessel. Just six years since the Loch Seaforth was delivered, the route is already at capacity as well as being vulnerable to breakdown, as was demonstrated by the many weeks the Loch Seaforth spent out of service in the early summer. The ‘one large vessel’ model has clearly therefore failed on the Stornoway service. There are other examples where the same flawed strategy has been followed, not only leading to a poorer service, but a more expensive one. Ports and piers have had to be upgraded to accommodate ever larger ships.
That is not a model we want repeating on Mull, and we know from our surveys and conversations that is a widely held view. Mull needs a larger number of smaller ferries, so that not only is the service frequent, flexible and reliable, but that traffic flows onto our single-track roads smoothly and in smaller batches. For an island so close to the mainland and a major town like Oban, we really should have a much more frequent service that operates for much longer every day.
So the SUR asks that both two and three ferry options are examined, as well as a passenger-only service too. Transport Scotland have already agreed that all of these options will indeed be properly considered in the business case, which is the next step. We’re pleased that so far Transport Scotland are listening to us, and understand what we want to achieve. This is a long process however, and will take many years to come to fruition.
You can read and download the Specification of User Requirements below.