A tunnel to Mull?

We were surprised to hear today that the Scottish Government’s Second Strategic Transport Projects Review (STPR2) that was released today includes proposals to investigate the feasibility of a fixed link from the mainland to Mull.

The idea of building a tunnel or bridge to the mainland has been raised on occasion, and it prompted us to include a question about the principle in our 2019 Ferry Users’ survey. The response was very firmly against:

Extract from 2019 Users’ Survey Results

We were contacted by several newspapers asking for comment on the fixed link proposal, and below is what we responded with. We hope it fairly reflects the view of Mull and Iona.

If you have thoughts on this topic or any other, don’t hesitate to contact any member of the Committee. You can find a list of contacts here.

STPR2 is out for public consultation now. You can read it and respond here.

And apologies for the naff tunnel photoshopping.

—- Statement to press below —-

What I can say is that we (Mull and Iona Ferry Committee) surveyed islanders on Mull and Iona in 2019 on this topic, and the response was overwhelmingly negative. 60% disagreed with the proposal that ‘if it were possible, I’d like a tunnel from Mull to Oban’. Only 20% Agreed. (This from a survey with 672 responses from Mull and Iona, total population about 3,200. So a very big sample equivalent to about 35% of the adult population). So it would seem that people value their island identity.

What they want is a reliable ferry service, one that is dependable in typical winter weather, and has space for everyone who wants to use it in the summer. These are the basic expectations of a lifeline ferry service, but at the moment they are not being met.

Thinking big thoughts about the future is always healthy.  We should never assume that things will always be done the way they have in the past. It is healthy to have some ambitious thinking in Transport Scotland. Ironically however, that is one of the major cultural and institutional problems with the current state ferry establishment – change happens at glacial pace and decisions often seem to be shaped by dogma and vested interests rather than asking what would actually deliver the best service to islanders at least cost. So rather than distracting us with grandiose plans for 20 years hence, what is really needed is a two – five year plan to fix the chronically dysfunctional and expensive ferry system. Together with other islands we campaign, write and publish repeatedly on the need for change in the ferry service, yet we feel almost completely ignored. The house is burning down and we are shouting urgently for someone to do something, and the response from Edinburgh today is “look at this shiny fire engine that we’ll have in 20 years”. It’s the kind of top-down approach to the islands we are getting more fed up with. We’re being told what the solutions are, and rarely asked about our problems. No-one on Mull has been publicly asking for a fixed link. We have been asking simply for more reliable and more efficient ferries, for years. Before we start thinking about tunnels under the sea, we need to fix the very urgent and fundamental problems with the ferry service.

I would also point out that a tunnel to Mull is by no means an easy task, and a glance at the map will tell you this. The most practical place to install a fixed link is across the sound of Mull to Morvern (where, interestingly, a tunnel from the Lochaline sand mine already travels most of the way to Mull). That would replace the small, dependable and frequent Lochaline-Fishnish ferry. However, there would still be a strong need to retain a ferry to Oban – in short, because Oban is our closest mainland town. It is our local service centre, where our children go to school and the shortest route to central Scotland. A bridge to Morvern would take us to one of the most isolated mainland peninsulas, with no significant town until Fort William after about another 1.5 hours drive on predominantly single-track roads. So it is difficult to imagine that the business case for a tunnel to Morvern would stack up, since there would be very few balancing cost savings in reduced ferry operations. The alternative tunnel – to Oban – would need to be about 8 miles long, which would make it the longest road tunnel in the UK by quite some margin – difficult to imagine that would be justified for an island of 3,200 people who at the moment show little desire for one.

4 thoughts on “A tunnel to Mull?

  1. Heaven preserve us!!!!! AGAIN AND AGAIN NO NO NO NO NO to a tunnel or a bridge/link!!!!!! Perish the thought!! You have said it already. Fix the ferry problem end of. Thank you again for all your continued hard work.

  2. What a staggering lack of imagination. Fixed links would be a game changer for the viability of Scotland’s island communities. Look to the Faeroe islands as an example.

    1. Fixed links would be transformative and achievable – but more likely on other islands rather than Mull. Lismore, Luing, the Orkneys, between the Western Isles for example. Via Jura to Islay…. But the business case and topographical challenges for Mull are pretty substantial.

  3. Hopefully fixed links will never be feasible for Mull. Faroe Island tunnels link small island communities, not to a mainland with 40 million vehicles.

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