It was another long meeting, but there was plenty to talk about: the linkspan closure, an upgrade to the airport embarkation equipment, and a green light to discuss the pros and cons of taking the Scarinish public toilets into community ownership. The month had been full of meetings to report back on.
We had met Kevin Hobbs, the chief executive of CMAL, the company that owns the ferry fleet and the Tiree pier on behalf of the Scottish government. It was a chance to hear from the horse’s mouth about the shipyard delays on the Clyde, which mean the two new ferries are seriously behind schedule.
The Tiree linkspan is being replaced in February/March 2020, and we have to be prepared for the fact that we won’t be able to get cars or lorries on or off the ferry at the Gott Bay pier for four weeks. There is an important meeting on Tuesday 4th December 4-7.30 pm in An Talla, where CalMac and CMAL staff will do their best to answer our questions. The Tiree Transport Forum will make sure the engineers are aware of the big dates in the Tiree calendar so they can work round them.
We also met Michael Bratcher, who oversees air services within Transport Scotland. The contract for the flights between Tiree and Glasgow is up for renewal next year, and airlines will again be bidding. Passenger numbers are reassuringly up, and it looks as though services will continue much the way they are. Something Michael particularly likes is the ‘flight banking’ system that Tiree operates. This means that a few flights can be cut in the winter months and then used at the times of year of our choice when it’s busy. One piece of news is that a new and heavier SAAB is coming into operation, one that the Tiree runways cannot cope with. So the only planes coming to Tiree from next year will be the Twin Otter and the Kingair ambulance plane.
I also met our three local Argyll and Bute councillors last week. They had flown out from Oban to the island for the day, and were delighted with the convenience of the flight. When I pointed out that the Council had agreed to cut the subsidy of this service drastically, they were absolutely sure that the Oban- Tiree flights would be safe. Let’s hope they’re proved right!
While they were there, I took the opportunity to ask them for a bigger grant for Tiree Community Council to allow us to get to mainland meetings. They absolutely supported this. Let’s hope they’re successful!
There has been a problem over the last year with access to the Twin Otter for people who need help to get into the aircraft. The Stairclimber equipment to lift passengers up the steps is not powerful enough. The community council has been lobbying HIAL, who run the Tiree airport, as well as Loganair, to get a more powerful version, and we are delighted that HIAL have now done precisely that.
Another issue we have been chewing away at for over a year is the block of land next to Pier View in Scarinish. This was provisionally sold by HIE to MacLeod Construction, but has now come back on the market.
Finally: toilets. Every year the council cuts come closer. What has sharpened our interest recently has been the closure by Highland Council – apparently the UK’s ‘largest provider of public toilets’ – of most of their councilrun toilets in a bid to save £500,000 a year. Argyll and Bute councillors discuss the same cut every year too. We have taken the view that the Scarinish toilets, which everyone agrees are completely essential, are vulnerable, and we would be better to open a dialogue now to see if the council would consider passing them into community ownership. Community toilets are becoming more common – there are good examples in Biggar, Arisaig and the Kyle of Lochalsh. Things are at an early stage, but we have started the ball rolling. Now we will wait to see what sort of deal the council will make the community.
Councillors Dr John Holliday, Robert Trythall and Ian Gillies attended. Apologies were received from Willie Angus MacLean and Alison Clark.