Sleat Transport Forum
The Sleat Transport Forum was established in 2015 to provide a central point of contact for transport issues that may have an effect on the community of Sleat. It is managed under the auspices of the Community Council and is made up of a small group of community representatives to act as a focal point for the Sleat peninsula.
The Forum has an extensive remit which can include ferries, buses, trains, air services, community transport and roads.
On the 22nd of September 2015 the Forum was advised by Robert Morrison, CalMac Ferries Ltd Area Operations Manager that the Scottish Minister for Transport, Derek Mackay, had announced a review of CalMac timetables effective from Summer 2016. The government press release can be found here. The proposals included a significant change in schedule and vessels for the Mallaig to Armadale route and it was announced that CalMac would be consulting with west coast communities on these changes which aimed to improve fleet utilisation and meet aspirations for improvements to services outlined in the Draft Ferries Review of 2012. For Mallaig Armadale the company proposed a new schedule using two vessels and this draft timetable is shown below.
Following the email the Sleat Transport Forum was urgently convened on Monday 28th September with the purpose to review the changes proposed by CalMac and prepare an initial response to the Company.
A detailed review and revision of the schedule was submitted to CalMac on 1st October with the following text.
Robert Morrison, CalMac
Following the Transport Minister's announcement on the 22nd of September, the Sleat Transport Forum in south Skye has had the opportunity to review the proposals for an enhanced timetable across the CHFS network effective from March 2016, specifically in respect of the Mallaig-Armadale service. It is recognised that these proposals are at an initial stage and that a comprehensive community engagement period will now be undertaken by the Company on behalf of Transport Scotland and the Scottish Government. It is further recognised that the complexity of the CHFS network presents a range of difficulties for a number of reasons including fleet utilisation and customer demand. We were pleased to hear 'that CalMac wishes to better tailor its services to suit the needs of the communities the Company serves'.
Having now extensively assessed the proposals as they would affect the Mallaig-Armadale route we have shown attached a formal response. We would welcome the opportunity to discuss this further with Company representatives to review and revise the proposals as outlined in your email of the 22nd.
We would be grateful if copied addressees would kindly pass this email on to those who may have an interest in the proposed schedule changes, particularly Highland Council Ward Managers for other Community Councils, representatives of public transport providers and the media.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Rob Ware, Secretary, Sleat Community Council for the Sleat Transport Forum
On 2nd October we received an acknowledgement of our Response and we wait to hear further information. The Forum's Response has been widely circulated to interested parties including the media, MP's, MSP's, local and regional Councillors, Community Councils, Chambers of Commerce, local community groups and public transport providers. Please share the link to this web page to those who may have an interest in what is being proposed by CalMac and any comments welcomed using our 'Contact Us' page.
6th October: Publication of the tri-partite Vessel Replacement and Deployment Plan by Transport Scotland, CalMac Ferries Ltd. and CMAL. Click here to see the document.
Throughout October many efforts were made to secure an urgent meeting with CalMac officials to discuss the S16 proposals and these have included the CalMac conference in Oban, the Lochaber, Small Isles, and Skye Ferry Users Group, correspondence to MSP's and MP'S. Although CalMac have continued to assure us that the timetables are being reviewed as of 9th November we are still waiting for that meeting. The views of STF are in line with those of Mallaig and its community including the Harbour Authority, Community Council and Road to the Isles Marketing Group. The two groups have now written to Transport Minister, Derek Mackay, and further word is expected w/c 9th November.
25th November: the Forum met with Robert Morrison of CalMac on 11th November at SMO to discuss the proposals that had been on the table since 22nd September. In short there was nothing new and the Forum's stance of retaining the Coruisk was deemed as not possible.
As a result the Forum released a Media Statement on 17th November as follows:
The Sleat Transport Forum
Ferry Downgrade Causes Concern
Communities in both Skye and Lochaber are concerned at the proposed downgrading of the Mallaig to Armadale ferry service in the summer of 2016. ’MV Coruisk’, built specifically for this route with a capacity for 40 cars and a speed of 14 knots with good passenger facilities is to be replaced with a smaller vessel of 22 car capacity with a speed of 9 knots and inadequate passenger facilities. This will be supplemented during the day by the provision of runs by the ‘Lord of the Isles’ in between serving Lochboisdale and Mallaig.
Roddy Murray chairman of Sleat Transport Forum said "this is an iconic route which has shown significant growth year on year and attracts large numbers of visitors from all parts of the world. It is important as a major attraction both for Lochaber, Skye and the Outer Isles and contributes in a significant way to the success of commerce and tourism in these areas. In addition to year on year growth the introduction of RET will significantly increase pressure on this already busy route. The combined capacity of the LOTI and the smaller vessel will make only a marginal difference to capacity and will fall short of what is required. Inevitably traffic will be turned away from the ferry route resulting in lost revenue for the company congestion on the roads and loss of business for local companies.
The Sleat Transport Forum calls on Ministers to make a decision now to ensure that a ferry service which meets current and growing demand is in place for the start of the summer season as noted in the submission made by the Forum back in October. In addition, the Forum wishes to discuss the improvements needed to the winter service with a larger vessel and more crossings due to the increase in capacity needed by a community which is developing further social, educational and commercial opportunities throughout the year."
Roddy Murray, chair Sleat Transport Forum email@example.com
17th November 2015
With no further word from the Company or Transport Scotland we met with Dave Thompson, MSP, on 21st November. He agreed to release a Media Statement shown below:
Ferry Improvements Must Not Be at Expense of Mallaig/Armadale Crossings Says MSP
Dave Thompson, SNP MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, who has already written to Caledonian Macbrayne regarding their proposed new ferry provisions, believes attempting to solve an Oban/Mull problem should not be at the expense of the Mallaig/Armadale service.
Mr Thompson said,
“As I have mentioned before, the increased frequency of sailings is to be welcomed, however I am concerned that there is an Oban/Mull problem being solved at the expense of Mallaig/Armadale service. This must not be allowed to happen.
“Part of the proposals include re-deploying the MV Coruisk to the Oban/Craignure route to meet the expected significant increase in demand as a result of RET, however the same significant increase in demand applies equally to the Mallaig/Armadale route. Therefore, the MV Coruisk should stay where it is, supplemented by the Lord of the Isles. I back the Sleat Transport Forum with their efforts in this regard. A separate alternative solution must be found for the Oban/Mull service.
“If a new vessel cannot be built in the short term, chartering should be considered and in the longer term, we should give thought to building a new vessel, possibly a hybrid one. This of course would require upfront costs, but the new vessel could also be tendered for and hopefully then built at Fergusons yard, with the prospect that such a vessel could be designed to have a much lower operating cost.
“It is necessary, given the wider goal of improvements for all, that CalMac, and the Scottish Government, give further consideration to these matters prior to the implementation of the new timetable”.
Dave can be contacted on the following numbers:
Dingwall Office – 01349 864701
Mobile – 07825 522580
As a result the Forum has now written directly to Derek Mackay, the Minister and scans of the letter sent to him can be found on these three links:
We are hoping for an early response.
There is still no reply from the Minister's office which is not surprising. However in a letter to a H and I MSP the Minister has re-iterated that there will be no change to the proposals and that CalMac will shortly be publishing their Summer 2016 timetables on the website.
If this is the case the Forum will be issuing statements and will, initially, be writing directly to Martin Dorchester, CalMac's Managing Director.
16th December-The wall of silence from CalMac, Transport Scotland and the Transport Minister continues. The Forum believes now that the whole consultation process initiated by CalMac has been nothing short of a sham, and that senior executives have chosen to disregard entirely the measured and realistic response from the Sleat community. We are now of the belief that following our meeting with the CalMac representative on 11th November that our views and concerns have not been passed on to CalMac management, on the basis that there is an assumption that by the Company offering the opportunity for a year-round service on the route the Forum accepts the changes for Summer 2016. Nothing could be further from the truth.
As a result Freedom of Information requests have been sent to CalMac and Transport Scotland asking for all of the facts/findings and recommenations contained in a recently completed document by the Company sent to the Scottish Government for review solely relating to the Mallaig-Armadale route. We believe that this part of the CalMac document will show facts to be different from what interpreted from our submissions and the meeting with the official.
We still wait for information on these requests.
The process to finalise the Summer 2016 timetable continues for the Mallaig-Armadale service. When we thought it couldn't possibly get any worse for residents and visitors it now has reached a point that it can best be described as a 'Whitehall Farce'. CalMac have now presented the 4th version of the summer timetable for the route since the Transport Minister gave his statement about the west coast ferry timetables on 22nd September.The latest proposal (the last route to be finalised across the CHFS network) shows a timetable with three vessels and three 'seasonal' periods for the summer schedule, as can be seen on the attached images. The Company now proposes to use no less than THREE vessels on the route between the end of June and end of August, these being the MV Lochinvar, MV Lord of the Isles, and the relief vessel MV Loch Bhrusda which holds just 18 cars with no passenger facilities and chugs along at just 8.5 kts.
It goes without saying that the Sleat Transport Forum will vigorously oppose this new proposal and a formal response will be issued this week. The reality is that the vehicle capacity offered is less than Summer 2015, and on Sundays in the two 'shoulder' periods of early summer and autumn it is a staggering 20% less!!
The Forum believes that this proposal is totally flawed and potentially offers a serious threat to the economic prosperity of this community. The decision taken at senior government levels and at CalMac to re-deploy the Loch Coruisk to the Oban-Mull service we believe should not be at the expense of the Mallaig Armadale route which has been voiced by Dave Thompson, the local MSP in Parliament.
Residents are encouraged to share their views with Mr Thompson by emailing him at:
He is scheduled to meet the Transport Minister on 6th January and will be fully briefed by then.
Please share to anybody or any organisation that is a ferry user or has an interest. We will keep you updated.
All other CalMac summer timetables are now on-line at:
January 5th The Forum has yet to hear from CalMac further and therefore at the end of the holiday break an additional response to the Company was sent and this can be see here. In addition to the a Media Statement was issued and widely distributed in Scotland. This can be seen here. Once again the Forum representing community interests and ferry users stated unequivocally that the latest proposed timetable remain unacceptable. Subsequently we were advised that following a meeting on 6th January with Dave Thompson, MSP, the Minister and officials from CalMac and Transport Scotland a Press Release was issued as shown below.
Disappointment for Skye MSP at MV Coruisk’s Re-deployment to Mull - Oban but Extra Sailings and Capacity for Mallaig – Armadale Crossings Welcomed
Dave Thompson, SNP MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, who has had extensive communications with Caledonian Macbrayne regarding their proposed new ferry provisions, and who is an advocate of keeping the MV Coruisk for the Mallaig - Armadale Crossing, has reacted with disappointment at the news that the MV Coruisk will be re-deployed to the Oban - Mull service.
Mr Thompson, having recently met with the Transport Minister, Derek Mackay, along with a representative of Cal Mac and Transport Scotland, understands the great pressure on the Oban - Mull service and reluctantly accepts the changes to the Mallaig – Armadale service, which will provide extra capacity.
However, Mr Thompson pressed that Mallaig - Armadale should not be disadvantaged in the process, which is why he welcomes the news that there will be an extra vessel (MV Bhrusda), taking the vessels from two to three for Mallaig – Armadale, at peak times, and increased capacity, which will give greater resilience on the crossing overall.
This increase in frequencies of sailings and a significant increase in capacity should meet the expected extra demand on the route from RET, and includes an earlier service in the morning. The MSP cautioned, however, that a review of tourist bus schedules will be required to ensure schedule compatibility with the new ferry crossing timetable.
Mr Thompson said,
“As someone who has been campaigning to keep the MV Coruisk for the Mallaig - Armadale Crossing, I reacted with disappointment at the news that the MV Coruisk will be re-deployed to Oban - Mull.
“From my recent meeting with the Transport Minister, Derek Mackay, I am informed that the expected increase on the Craignure – Oban service is significantly higher than that expected of Mallaig – Armadale service.
“However, it is welcome news that the MV Bhrusda will take the vessels operating on the crossing from two to three and that there will be greater frequencies of sailings and a significant increase in capacity to meet the expected extra demand on the route from RET, including an earlier service in the morning for Mallaig - Armadale. Although, a review of tourist bus schedules will be required, which will involve detailed discussions with tourist bus operators to ensure tourists and locals are properly accommodated by the new extra sailings.
“Given the expansion in demand that will occur with the introduction of RET on the Mallaig – Armadale Crossing, it is critical that the capacity and frequency matches that, despite the loss of the MV Coruisk. So, whilst I am heartened at news of extra sailings and significantly enhanced capacity, including an extra early morning service, I will be keeping a close eye on how the situation develops to make sure we get the best deal for Mallaig – Armadale, and I welcome the fact that Cal Mac has committed to keeping the situation under constant review”.
It was clearly evident that both the Minister, CalMac and Transport Scotland were refusing to consider the Forum's call for this decision to be delayed by one year so as a complete review of CHFS routes and vessels could be undertaken.
The revised timetable was published on line on 15th January with a number of errors and the schedule can be seen at this link.
Two officials from CalMac have asked to see members of the Forum at 1700 today. We will update as soon as possible and a brief report of the meeting that took place yesterday with the Serco Caledonian Ferries Bid Team and key stakeholders in south Skye.
The letter that the Forum wrote to Minister Derek Mackay on 23rd November regarding the Forum's concerns at the timetable changes has yet to be answered.
A full and frank meeting took place on the 19th January with the Sleat Transport Forum and three senior officials from CalMac. A range of issues were discussed including operations, marketing support, considerations for customers with special needs, and a process to ensure that this summer's ferry service is reviewed regularly. The Forum believes that CalMac have taken on board the signficant concerns of this community and have created a schedule, with Transport Scotland, that meets the needs of the travelling public on the Mallaig-Armadale route this summer. There are a number of items that still have to be clarified and this includes whether the Armadale Passenger Access System (the big gangplank!) could be used this summer and the regulations of whether passengers will be permitted to remain in their vehicles during the crossing which was not allowed on the former vessel MV Coruisk. You will see from the timetable that journey times will range from 25 to 50 minutes depending on the vessel and the direction of travel! There will be no refreshment facilities on the Lochinvar and Loch Bhrusda!
The key issue remains that the capacity for vehicles on this route using the combination of two vessels (off-peak) and three vessels (peak) is equal to or less than 2015 with one vessel. The Scottish Government continues to appear delighted that there is 'significant increased capacity' in 2016. If you see the attached analysis that the Forum has prepared you will see that that much-used statement is simply untrue.
The Forum has been sent a copy of a letter sent this week from Martin Dorchester, Managing Director of CalMac to David Stewart MSP (Labour) and SG Opposition Spokesman for Transport. You will see in the letter that Mr Dorchester also refers to 'significant increased capacity', so it is clear that his advisers added that for political spin. You will also see on line 2 of the opening paragraph that his letter refers to concerns from the Sleat Community about the Winter 2016 timetable. We would have thought that as MD of the Company he would have at least got that right.
The Forum will be meeting marketing representatives from CalMac on 11th February and look forward a renewed and invigorated partnership with the Company. The message to the travelling public remains that it will be essential to book any of the ferry services on the Mallaig-Armadale route at all times and particularly in the peak period.
A number of meetings have taken place over the past few days including a Ferry Users Group at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig this week and so the new timetable from March 25th had been fully ratified, now published on-line and printed copies will be distributed across Scotland this week.
The Ferry Users Meeting invited comments from users for their views on the upcoming winter timetables across the CHFS network. The Forum took the opportunity to briefly present Sleat's aspiration and a formal paper has now been sent to CalMac and this can be seen here.
22nd March 2016
Email sent to Transport Scotland to ask on progress on the Winter 2016 proposal.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org [mailto:email@example.com] On Behalf Of Rob Ware
Sent: 22 March 2016 09:06
To: Nowbaveh C (Carol)
Cc: Roderick John Murray; Boyd Robertson; Jan Clarke; Anne Gracie
Subject: Mallaig Armadale Winter Timetable
I hope this finds you well.
You will be aware that the Sleat Transport Forum submitted its paper to CalMac Ferries Ltd on 19th February regarding the winter schedule for the Mallaig Armadale route commencing October 2016. I have attached the document for your information.
I am advised by CalMac's GM Operations that the paper was sent to Transport Scotland for assessment late in February and so the Forum would be grateful if you are able to give an update on your discussions. As you are aware there is a clear benefit for the timetables to be ratified as early as possible to allow forward planning. It was disappointing that it was late January this year before the Mallaig Armadale schedule was finally approved and published both on-line and in print.
Should any further supporting information for the winter schedule be required at this time please le me know.
I look forward to hearing from you.
With kind regards
and the reply from Transport Scotland- (Somewhat typical of civil servants)
Dear Mr Ware
Please accept this as an acknowledgement of your correspondence. A reply will be issued in accordance with the Scottish Government guidelines.
25th March and a letter to the Forum from Transport Scotland Ferries Policy Officer.
Dear Mr Ware
Thank you for your emails of 19 and 25 February to Derek Mackay MSP, Minister for Transport
and Islands, and Lindsay Williamson, regarding the Mallaig-Armadale ferry service. As a Ferries
Policy Officer, I have been asked to reply. I also refer to your emails to me of 22 and 23 March.
Regarding the Summer 2016 timetable, CalMac have advised that the capacity provided on the
Mallaig – Armadale service should meet the expected demand on the route. However I assure
you that usage will be closely monitored by the operator and fed into considerations for the
Summer 2017 timetable.
I confirm that Transport Scotland are in receipt of the Sleat Transport Forum’s paper setting out
their aspirations for the Winter 2016/17 timetable. We have had initial discussions with CalMac,
and they will be commencing consultation on Winter 2016/17 timetables shortly. Following that
engagement, feedback will be provided by CalMac to Transport Scotland, and in turn Scottish
Ministers, in due course. We are aware that communities would like timetables confirmed as
early as possible and we are working with CalMac to achieve this.
Summer Season 25th March
The summer timetable commenced on Good Frday and there has been extensive disruption on the Mallaig Armadale route until the time of writing this update on 16th April. This has been a combination of factors, principally vessel issues with low tidal conditions, adverse weather and the difficulty in operations experienced with the Lord of the Isles. It has been a three vesssel operation since the beginning of the schedule and there has been significant media coverage and extensibe customer feedback at what has been a shamble for CalMac Ferries Ltd, the Operator. As viewers will see from the trail of documents, Press Statements and commentary all of this was predicted by the Sleat Transport Forum from October 2015 and due to poor planning by CalMac the confidence in the route has been severel threatened.
As a result and after two weeks of cancellations, rescheduled services, delays and a much reduced onboard service the Forum was compelled to issue a Public Statement on Thursday 7th April whch was distributed across Scotland to CalMac, Transport Scotland, the media, politicians, elected members and the wider business community. This is shown below:
Statement from the Sleat Transport Forum 7th April 2016
Tourism operators and the community in Sleat are increasingly concerned at the unreliable and poor quality service now being provided on the Mallaig /Armadale ferry route. The service was downgraded by CalMac with the agreement of the Minister for Transport and Islands together with Transport Scotland for the summer of 2016. The MV Coruisk was redeployed to Mull and replaced with two smaller vessels and the Lord of the Isles (LOTI) during the down time from her regular run from and to Lochboisdale.
Sleat Transport Forum has consistently expressed concern to the Minister, Transport Scotland and the Company that the new replacement service was unsustainable and this has been borne out in the first two weeks of operation. During the second week the replacement vessels have been unable to operate in low tides and no fewer than 12 of the scheduled services this week have been have been cancelled. The Company has now been made aware of the periods of low-tides until the end of September and it is believed that a programme of cancelled services and rescheduled departures is now being prepared for publication for the whole of the summer season! Today’s operation (7th April) utilising three vessels has been nothing short of catastrophic with disruption not seen on the Mallaig/Armadale route for many years. This pattern of disruption is expected to continue at regular intervals over the coming months unless remedial action is urgently taken. Tourism operators who have taken on staff for the season are now faced with great uncertainty and will have to review their staffing levels as a result. This is very bad news not just for the whole of Skye but for Lochaber as well.
A spokesman for Sleat Transport Forum said " This situation was predicted by us for months prior to the implementation of this timetable but we were unable to convince Transport Scotland and the Company of the unsustainability of their proposals. The two small vessels currently deployed on the route were built to operate using fixed slipways rather than linkspans and the problems with varying tidal conditions should have been foreseen. This coupled with the absence of any form of service on board these vessels make them an extremely unattractive option for travellers who will sadly vote with their feet leaving local companies deprived of business which would otherwise have come their way. The threat to the economic prosperity of the communities and businesses affected is already obvious to see.
Mallaig /Armadale is an attractive route which has shown growth over recent years and which is predicted to continue to grow over the next five years. The downgrading of the service is perverse and indefensible. Those who work hard to sustain their businesses and create employment in this area deserve a better deal and Sleat Transport Forum urgently appeals to CalMac and the Scottish Government to find a solution which will lead to a reliable and robust service not just for this summer but for years to come ".
Note to Editors: The Sleat Transport Forum’s extended campaign to challenge the viability of the route proposal for Summer 2016 is documented at this link:
Contact Rob Ware, Secretary, Sleat Transport Forum firstname.lastname@example.org
Statement from Sleat Tourism Business Owner
‘It’s chaos for anyone wanting to use the service. They are changing things about on an hourly basis just now. One boat sailed half an hour before the scheduled time while another left Armadale without cars because the tide was too low to let them off at Mallaig. No-one can plan a journey in these circumstances, be they tourists with cars, foot passengers or coach operators! It’s a complete shambles. One cannot rely on the crossing timetables provided when there is so much tidal disruption. Speaking to some regular tourists who came over on the Bhrusda, they decided to go back home going over the bridge because it was not a pleasant journey on a ferry which falls far short of reasonably acceptable standards of comfortable public transport. It is totally inappropriate to put such a ferry on for a journey across open sea. This is killing tourism’.
George Smart, Owner Skyelark Gift Shop Armadale Pier 7th April 2016
Statement from Sleat Hospitality Operator
‘Since the introduction of the new timetable two weeks ago our visitors are so disappointed with the quality and comfort of two of the vessels servicing the Mallaig/Armadale route. This feedback has been consistent, together with the constant cancellations and rescheduling of their crossing times at short notice, causing concern for their onward journey. The tidal issue this week, which will recur regularly throughout the season, has caused a significant downturn on passing trade due to the cancellations of many of the crossings this week. Visitors seeing the negative displays at Fort William and Broadford junctions are naturally disappointed having hoped to catch one of those magnificent sailings, of which we were always so proud to promote, as being one of the very best ferry journeys in the world’.
Anne Gracie, Owner: Duisdale Hotel, Toravaig House Hotel and Skeabost Hotel 7th April 2016
Statement from Short Course Student at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig
‘I have been travelling to the College for many years to attend both spring and summer short courses. This week I have experienced at first hand the total chaos that the Summer 2016 revised operation has caused. Should this disruption, caused by both tidal conditions, adverse weather and vessels not fit for purpose for this highly popular route continue through this summer, it will take five years to recover from the chaos that has been imposed on the communities at either end that are heavily dependent on the benefits from such a previously successful service. The confidence in the route, in my view, is being severely tested’.
Nigel Macleod Short Course Student SMO 7th April 2016
Statement from the CEO of Clan Donald Lands Trust, operator of Armadale Castle and Gardens
‘The ferry service to and from Mallaig and Armadale used to be an enjoyment, it is now perceived to be an endurance’.
Jan Wallwork Clarke 7th April 2016
As a result of the disruption that has been caused on the route so far a meeting was arranged with senior CalMac officials in Sleat on 13th April, which members of the Forum attended. At the request of the Ian Blackford MP a report of the two hour session was prepared and forward to Mr Blackford the following day. The text of that report is shown below.
The Sleat Transport Forum meeting with operations officials from CalMac Ferries Ltd
Sabhal Mòr Ostaig 13th January
Members of the Sleat Transport Forum met with senior operations officials from CalMac yesterday to discuss and review the operation on the Mallaig/Armadale route since the beginning of the summer timetable on 25th March.
For a number of reasons, including tidal conditions, adverse weather and vessels unable to maintain schedules there has been significant disruption on the route. This has resulted in cancellations, rescheduled departures, extended crossing times and a dramatic drop in passenger confidence of the service. The Forum made it absolutely clear that this situation cannot continue through the summer, which, if not addressed urgently will have significant adverse economic effects on the community’s dependent on the ferry service. The key issue that the Forum asked of CalMac was the effect on the schedules of tidal conditions which were fully known about when the summer timetable was ratified. The Forum was concerned that the decision was taken by the Company to publish the timetable knowing that it was inevitable that disruption would occur as the vessels now deployed on the route are unable to operate in low tides. The response was that it was felt that the vessels needed to be on the route to see what the operating parameters would be. Members of the Forum described this as disgraceful and misleading, as experienced officials of the Company would have known the problems that would transpire.
Recent negative feedback from passengers, businesses and organisations was outlined to the Company to which there was an apology and a commitment to return to the Forum ‘within a week. The group reiterated our call for the immediate return of the MV Coruisk, the vessel specifically built for the Mallaig/Armadale in 2003. The Company has offered to consider publication of a revised timetable that takes into account the periods during low tides where vessels are unable to dock at the ports. The Forum saw this as potentially creating further passenger confusion and crucially such a new timetable would need to maintain vehicle capacity levels not less than enjoyed in 2015 and in the 2016 timetable currently in operation. This could include earlier departures and later sailings. The Forum maintains that the two smaller vessels, the Bhrusda and Lochinvar are not fit for purpose for this summer, and the uncertainty of the reliability of the Lord of the Isles adds further concern for the duration of the summer.
The Forum repeated its view that the best possible option to restore public and business confidence on the route will be to return the Coruisk to Mallaig, supplemented by the current three rotations of the larger Lord of the Isles.
The Forum was disappointed that the Company would not share the views and policies of Transport Scotland citing contractual reasons. The Forum believes that CalMac have not fulfilled the terms of the Contract for the Mallaig/Armadale route this summer, by means of deception and failure to disclose operational information that has now come to manifest itself in the disruption experienced in the first three weeks of the summer. As importantly the continuing message from the Company’s senior management demonstrates that passenger and vehicles numbers are significantly up on the route this season so far and that the ‘all is well’. We challenge this statement vigorously and call upon CalMac to be open and honest in its press releases.
The Forum is grateful for the support of Ian Blackford MP and Kate Forbes, Prospective Scottish Parliamentary Candidate for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch in bringing this to the attention of those officials and politicians who are able to put an immediate halt to the rapid decline of this popular and economically vital ferry service.
The Forum will maintain close contact with CalMac and will provide whatever time and resources are necessary to bring about an early resolution to the unacceptable situation that has been imposed by the Company and Transport Scotland.
Secretary, Sleat Transport Forum
14th April 2016
16th April we are now awaiting a response from CalMac as to how these serious issues of the ferry operation can be resolved.
8th May 2016
The significant disruption on the Sound of Sleat route continues and at present no revised timetable has been made available and repeated calls for the return of MV Coruisk have been unanswered.
At the suggestion of Ian Blackford MP and fully supported by the Sleat Transport Forum a Public Meeting was held on Wednesday 4th May at the Stables Restaurant, Armadale Castle and Gardens atteded by more than 85 members of the public. The meeting endorsed a resolution unanimously and the following statement was issued on 8th May.
The Sleat Transport Forum
Public Statement 8th May 2016
A well-attended public meeting held on 4th May in Sleat, Isle of Skye, to discuss the ongoing disruption on the Mallaig/Armadale ferry service, called for the resignation of the Managing Director and Operations Director of CalMac Ferries Ltd. The meeting, hosted by the Sleat Transport Forum and chaired by Ian Blackford, MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, also demanded the return to the route of the MV Coruisk, the vessel built specifically for it. The meeting was called following an outcry from ferry users about the inadequacy and unreliability of the three vessels deployed in place of the Coruisk, which is now used as a second vessel on the Oban-Craignure route.
Since October 2015 the Forum, representing ferry users, community interest groups, businesses and organisations, has pursued a vigorous, measured and sustained campaign to petition CalMac, Transport Scotland and the Minister for Transport and Islands to reverse the decision to redeploy the Coruisk. The Forum has consistently maintained that the revised timetable imposed by the Company, utilising up to three vessels for the route was totally flawed, and would not provide the level of service and reliability that had been provided for the route for the past twelve years. Despite repeated warnings that the use of two vessels, which are unable to operate at low tides, would cause significant disruption from the start of the summer schedule, the Company carried on regardless, apparently not even sharing that operational information with Transport Scotland officials.
The purpose of the meeting was for Mr Blackford, representing his constituents, to hear at first hand the views of the Sleat community, including ferry users, residents, local businesses, and organisations. Over 80 people attended the session and recounted numerous personal experiences of the disruption to the service caused by the total unsuitability of the vessels being deployed by the Company and spoke of the damaging effects on their businesses, livelihoods and travel plans. There have been no fewer than 80 cancellations of sailings to date. As well as significant delays to departure times, the MV Lord of the Isles which is used on the route from mid-morning to mid-afternoon has been unable to berth in Mallaig on a number of occasions due to wind conditions and has either spent several hours and many litres of fuel cruising up and down the Sound of Sleat or been diverted to Oban to fulfil its Lochboisdale service. Coach tour operators have had their itineraries curtailed by the operating restrictions, all of which were predicted by the Forum in its submissions to the Company. Passing trade for local businesses is directly affected by the uncertainty of the service, which in April 2015 experienced just two cancellations out of a planned 428 sailings. The Forum has received numerous reports from individuals, businesses and organisations from across Skye and Lochaber expressing significant concern at the effect that this disruption is now causing, with the consistent view that it is now such an unreliable service, that customers are avoiding using the ferry. The economic prosperity of the communities that are heavily dependent on the benefits that this popular and profitable service gives is now under severe threat.
The meeting unanimously supported the following resolution.
‘That this meeting calls for the immediate return of the MV Coruisk to the Mallaig/Armadale ferry service, failing which the Company provide a suitable vessel or vessels to enable the published timetable to be fulfilled.
That this meeting calls for the resignation of Martin Dorchester, Managing Director of Caledonian MacBrayne and Drew Collier, Director of Operations due to their gross incompetence in failing to provide fit for purpose vessels and infrastructure to implement the published timetable for the Mallaig /Armadale ferry service and their refusal to meet with community representatives at a public meeting in Skye.
That Ministers be asked to meet urgently with Sleat Transport Forum to discuss the future of the service, both summer and winter, in light of its importance to the economic and social future of Skye, Lochaber and the Western Isles’.
A call was also made at the meeting for the establishment of the office of Ferry Regulator, with powers similar to those of the regulators for other forms of transport such as trains and buses. Professor Boyd Robertson, Principal of the Gaelic College, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, felt that such a mechanism was required to regulate, monitor and evaluate the service and performance of CalMac and other ferry companies.
Ian Blackford MP added:
‘The public meeting at Clan Donald was a welcome opportunity for individuals and businesses to share with me the impact of the disruption that has been faced by communities in Skye and Lochaber since the removal of the Coruisk. We know that Caledonian MacBrayne were well aware from the outset that the removal of the Coruisk, a vessel which was purpose built for the Mallaig-Armadale service and had a high level of reliability and its replacement with mix of vessels was going to bring operational challenges. Quite why a management team can think the removal of a vessel that is designed to operate from a linkspan and can operate at low spring and summer tides, and replace it with vessels that are designed to operate from slipways and consequently can’t operate at low tide off the linkspans at Mallaig and Armadale beggars belief!
The end result has been an unacceptable level of cancellations and disruptions that have undermined confidence in the service. As a result, businesses that are vital to the sustainability of the economy of Sleat and elsewhere on Skye and the mainland are seeing an impact on their businesses. In particular coach operators have cancelled bookings on Skye. This is not acceptable and I join with those at the meeting in calling for the immediate re-instatement of the Coruisk and for Mr Dorchester and Mr Collier to accept their responsibilities for the shambles that has become the Mallaig-Armadale service and resign. I will be communicating this message to Caledonian MacBrayne and I will also be seeking an early meeting with the Transport Minister to update him on the situation here and seek his support to restore the service on the route to an acceptable level. I will also be taking up with the Minister the welcome suggestion that was made at the meeting last night for the creation of a Ferry Regulator.’
Robert Kidd, Chair, Scottish Destination Management Association and Managing Director McKinlay Kidd added:
‘The allocation of three unsuitable vessels, combined with the total lack of coordination with the rail timetable for Glasgow, means this current ferry schedule is totally unfit for purpose. If nothing changes we will see thousands of visitors' experience of Skye curtailed or prevented, thus costing many businesses significant sums of money. If nothing changes, the likelihood is that tour operators will be looking at alternative routes for their programmes.
We urgently request CalMac to address and resolve these issues, even if it means changing plans mid-season.’
Jan Wallwork Clarke, CEO of Clan Donald Lands Trust, operators of Armadale Castle and Gardens & the Museum of the Isles added:
‘Thanks to cancellations of ferries, this week alone, we lost two guests from accommodation, 26 lunches for a coach group, plus their admission fees and our visitor numbers have slipped below 2015 – which is a result of a drop in both group and independent travellers.
Every day brings another cancellation of business with the likelihood of the client thinking again for the whole of the season. I cannot emphasise enough the urgency of this situation for this business.
We need a solution and fast and we have indicated what it needs to be.’
Rob Ware, Secretary, on behalf of the Sleat Transport Forum
8th May 2016
Notes to Editors
Further information is available at email@example.com or 01471 855350
Attached image: MV Coruisk, available for general publication. The copyright holder (RD Ware) gives full permission for this image to be used in any format.
Over one month after the Forum met with officials of CalMac to discuss the unsuitability of vessels and what options were available, and following the public meeting the Company has issued a revised timetable reflecting the changes required where the two vessels, MV Lochinvar and MV Bhrusda cannot berth due to tidal conditions.
The two links on the website are as follows:
and the dates where the published schedule is required to be amended.
A meeting was held by the Transport Forum on May13th to consider the timetables as presented by email in Excel format on 12th May at 1630 and to assess how this campaign continues. A Facebook Page 'bring back our boat' and a petition on change.org have now received 791 likes and 1092 signatures respectively.
As a result of that meeting the following email was sent to the Company at 1153 on 13th May.
The Sleat Transport Forum met this morning to discuss the revised timetable that you forwarded to me yesterday afternoon for the Mallaig Armadale service for the remainder of the Summer 2016 season.
The Forum advises that it totally and unconditionally rejects the assumptions made in the documents and will not support it.
Furthermore it is the view of the Forum that this timetable does not address the issues that have been consistently highlighted in the Submissions and dialogue with the Company since October 2015. The Forum contests that the unsuitability of the vessels deployed for this route remains, and that it is fully confident that the significant and well-publicised disruption and resulting loss of confidence in the service since 25th March will inevitably occur for the remainder of the summer, if this latest proposal was implemented.
I trust that this fully clarifies our position.
14th May a meeting has been scheduled for 1300 on 15th May between members of the Sleat Transport Forum and the Managing Director and Operations Director of the Company.
The meeting took place and was a full and frank discussion. The Company said that they had come to listen to the views of the community but at this stage there was nothing to add to the table. It was agreed that CalMac would go away having had the discussion and be in contact again with the Forum.
19th May 0915
CalMac declared by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to be the winning bidder for the new £1bn Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Service contract effective from 1st October 2016.
The Forum awaits news of the resolution of the operational issues on the Mallaig Armadale route and the campaign now heavily featured in the media.
Summer 2016-An update on events since the announcement of the winning bid will be made on this page as soon as possible. Please see the Facebook page for operational and statistics information.
November 14th 2016
Much has happened on the Mallaig-Armadale roue this summer. The season ended on 23rd October and both the performance and traffic statistics are best described as derisory. A number of meetings took place in August with Transport Scotland, CalMac and on the 25th a meeting at the College with Humza Yousaf MSP, Minister for Transport and Islands. At that meeting a committment was made by the Minister that he wishes to avoid the unacceptable level of service on the route this summer and that he was tasking CFL and CMAL to look at vessels for procurement for purchase or charter.
The Forum continues to petition to call for a robust and resilient service on the route in2017 and it was expected that the Operator, having won the CHFS contract, would have advised its proposals for the netwok by now. No further indication of what is planned for Summer 17 on the Mallaig route, but the Forum maintains that the return of the MV Coruisk is key to returning to a reliable service.
It has to be noted that in 2015 the scedules for 2016 were made available to communities on 22nd September but as of today there has been no consultation whatsoever on the 2017 timetable and vessel deployment.
The Community Council was delighted to be awarded the 'Scottish Rural Parliament's Rural Innovators Award for Community Councils' in October for its year-long and continuing campaign to restore a fit and proper service on the Mallaig-Armadale route.
The Summer Timetables for 2017 were published by CalMac on 10th January following a Press Release issued the day before. This year's service will be operated by the MV Loch Fyne and MV Lord of the Isles with the timetable shown here . But there is also the need for timetable changes due to tides affecting services and that timetable can be found here.
Changes in management at CalMac took place in early March and a new and improved dialogue with the Company is taking shape and the Forum welcomes the appointment of Ian Fox as Route Account Manager, a new post. A number of meetings will take palace in March and a delegation from Sleat and Mallaig met with the Transport Minister on 28th February in Edinburgh.
For the service this summer to be 'successful' it depends entirely on the weather, as the MV Loch Fyne was designed to operate from slipways and not linkspans.
31st March 2017
Today is the first day of the new summer season on the Mallaig-Armadale route. The two vessels being deployed are the MV Lord of the Isles and MV Loch Fyne, which has recently undergone engineering works to allow it to operate from linkspans. There is however a tidal timetable operating this summer from Day One (we ask why this wasn't in place for Summer 2016) and there are 78 days out of 206 where changes are made due to low tides. This relates to a planned cancellation of 241 sailings this year because of low tides this leaves 3287 sailings.
The next Skye, Lochaber and Small Isles Ferry User Group meeting will take place in Mallaig on 25th April and a Ferry Summit for the route with CMAL, Transport Scotland, CalMac and representatives from Sleat and Mallaig is planned for 9th May.