Ferries, this year’s Armistice Day service at the War Memorial, and seaweed harvesting were some of the subjects discussed at this month’s community council meeting.
This had been delayed by a week to accommodate an important session of the Tiree Transport Forum with senior CalMac management earlier in the day. There has been a lot of frustration with the company over the last six months, with the prolonged absence of the Clansman and complaints about the booking system, centred around the weekend of the 10k. David Gibson (Director of Service Delivery for the whole company), Robert Morrison (Head of Operations North) and Finlay MacRae (Area Operations Manager North) acknowledged that the DOS-based system running ticketing was over twenty years old. An attempt several years ago to replace it had ended in failure, and a new £20 million request for its replacement was on the desks of ministers in Edinburgh. A new system was at least two years off, and in the meantime, they recommended using the website to get information about sailings.
David has instigated a new integrated control centre, so that ferry disruptions can be handled centrally, and he promised the company would be quicker at getting a work-around for problems in future. Everyone acknowledged that the fleet, with an average age of over twenty years, was struggling to keep pace with demand, particularly after Road Equivalent Tariff boosted numbers of tourists visiting the islands.
The Tiree ferry linkspan is due to be replaced in the autumn of 2019. This will mean a month when no vehicles will be able to access the boat. This will present a serious challenge; fortunately, Coll will be going through the same process six months earlier, giving us a chance to learn from that exercise.
Another issue that came up was the uncertain ownership of the car park at the pier head. There have been issues over long term parking there, but no one seems to know which body has title to the ground, and no one is currently managing it.
Our annual request for a change for the Barra boat in summer from Wednesday back to Thursday is just not possible at the moment, although the launching of the two new ferries currently on the slipway at the moment might free up timetables eventually. These vessels, known as 801 and 802, are seriously behind schedule and over budget; we will be lucky to see them before winter service 2019-2020 and late summer service 2020 respectively.
Another issue, which Alan Millar brought up, was the November 11th service at the War Memorial. Since the 1920s, this has taken place on the Saturday afternoon. This year marks the centenary of Armistice Day, with the 11th falling on the Sunday itself. We discussed whether to change the service to the Sunday afternoon for this year only. Alan will discuss the matter with the leadership of both churches.
Phones boxes came up for discussion, too. An ambitious project by the community council to buy and renovate all but one of the public phone boxes on the island has ground to a halt after an enthusiastic start last year.
By good fortune, one of those attending the meeting had bought and renovated a phone box for his wife’s birthday. He knew from first hand how difficult and expensive it could be. One suggestion was to move all the boxes from their current locations, use the best parts from all of them to repair one or two that could then be positioned in the most useful places, selling some of the spare parts left over to finance the project. A group will meet soon to look at the problem afresh.
I took advantage of a recent visit to the Coll Homecoming to chat to some members of their Community Council. Their issues are the dreadful state of their roads, and the desire of many islanders for a door-to-door recyclables collection. Some of the ferry timetable changes they were seeking were diametrically opposed to ours.
Marine Scotland has sent Marine Bioplolymers, the company seeking permission to trawl for kelp around Tiree, back to the drawing board, to apply again area by area. We will keep a close eye on the situation.
Dr John Holliday, Robert Trythall, Ian Gillies and Alison Clark were in attendance. William Angus MacLean sent his apologies. Sadly, Andy Wright has stepped down from the council.