The economy of the Western Isles will suffer without better ferry planning, the local authority has warned.

Western Isles Council has called on the Scottish Government and CalMac to introduce a new strategy taking on board the views of those on the islands ahead of a major refit programme to avoid “significant impact” on local businesses.  

The local authority has urged the two public bodies to conduct a “lessons learned” exercise around the upcoming Stornoway and Barra dry dock replacement to ensure more successful planning and deployment in future.

Council Transport chairman CouncillorCllr Uisdean Robertson said: “The annual dry dock programme for major CalMac Ferries is again having a profoundly negative impact on communities across the Western Isles.

“Perhaps if there was more island input into the planning and decision making, there would be a better understanding of how the lack of proper planning and deployment adversely affects life in these islands.”

Concerns have been raised over the ferries CalMac has deployed on the route, with Councillor Robertson saying that the vessels running the route and to outlying islands were not fit for purpose. 

He said: “CalMac has deployed MV Isle of Lewis and MV Hebridean Isles to the Stornoway route with the latter designated for freight services.

“Despite this being the route with the highest freight volume on the network, MV Hebridean Isles’ freight carrying capacity is heavily restricted in weight terms meaning it can only carry a partially loaded vehicle deck.

“In addition, the performance of the Isle of Arran in inclement weather on the Barra route, which is the longest and most exposed route in the network, has been poor in previous deployments for relief cover in the winter.”

Mr Robertson’s comments come amid a background of intense criticism of perceived under-investment in ferry services in Scotland by successive governments going back decades. 

A number of vessels have suffered mechanical problems, while ports and harbours have crumbled due to lack of funds. 

Mr Robertson said: “We understand that neither the MV Isle of Arran or MV Hebridean Isles can be used on the seasonally quieter route to Coll and Tiree due to previous problems berthing MV Hebridean Isles.

“Instead of fixing the issue, a fleet - which is already stretched too thin and has seen only two new major ferries added since 2001 - loses further flexibility by removing appropriately sized vessels from routes which they should be serving. This only passes problems on to routes that require vessels with larger capacity, better facilities and better seagoing performance.

“Despite the inclement weather last week, it is the case that the freight provision remains inadequate.”

He added: “Shortages and delays which have real tangible financial impacts on our local economy.

“We are committed to continuing to work with the Scottish Government and CalMac to ensure more successful planning and deployment of future ferry services for island communities.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “CalMac, as the operator of the Clyde & Hebrides Ferry Services, manage connections across the ferry network. Through Transport Scotland we work closely with them, local businesses and communities as we seek to enhance services across the entire network, and have invested £1.5 billion in the Clyde and Hebrides ferry services since 2007 to this end.The dry dock schedule is an annual mandatory regulatory requirement for all vessels and are necessary for the fleet‘s continued safe operation. 

"However, we understand the frustration these maintenance periods can cause to island communities when the vessel normally deployed on a route is unavailable and another vessel is temporarily deployed on that service. 

“While CalMac is responsible for vessel deployment decisions during the annual dry dock period, Transport Scotland will engage with CalMac through our on-going contract management arrangements and consider if there are any lessons that can be learnt in relation to future decisions on vessel deployment and resilience during annual overhaul periods.”