ISLANDERS have warned of the threat of business closures as a new wave of disruption caused by an extension of the closure of a crucial Scottish port has turned a drama into a "crisis".

The re-opening of Uig on Skye has been delayed for at least 10 days because upgrade work is not yet complete.

Mull islanders are furious that the spin off over the extension of the shutting of Skye's Uig harbour shut for repairs and work to adapt the pier to accommodate new larger ferries has meant its normal two-vessel holiday season has been put back by a month with concerns the service will just not be able to cope.

Islanders are due to confront transport minister Jenny Gilruth today (Monday) over the latest ferry debacle which has seen Highland Council, which owns the site, say bad weather in February affected the work.

It has said Uig, which is part of the Skye Triangle route, serving Uist and Harris is now to to re-open on March 23 at the earliest - having been shut since January.

The closure has led to a reduced service, with no direct service to Tarbert and traffic redirected to the Ullapool-Stornoway route, with an amended timetable which has seen ferries shifted into different positions.

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The harbour development on Uig that has been talked about for six years was supposed to have finally been completed in 2021 but is not scheduled to be completed till December, 2023.

HeraldScotland: SNP transport minister Jenny Gilruth

An original finish date of March, 2023 was shifted after the original plans to start work on the Uig pier in October "were not acceptable to island communities".

The original closure of the Uig pier between October and March was expected to disrupt services to Harris and also North Uist in the Western Isles - causing major concerns for many islanders.

But instead an eight-week closure was planned from January, allowing the harbour to reopen for the important tourist season before it shuts again for more work later in the year.

Community group Harris Development Ltd, who are among those due to be represented at the resilience meeting arranged by Ms Gilruth said that the news of the delay was greeted with a "mix of anger, frustration, exasperation and concern".

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Joe Reade, chairman of the Mull and Iona Ferry Committee said it has meant an extension of a "completely inadquate" single ferry services using MV Loch Frisa which is "incapable" of meeting traffic demands.

He said the changes mean that island will not have its double-vessel pairing until early May at the earliest, when the summer season starts in April 1.

"Our critical summer tourist season has in effect been delayed by a month, and this will hit island businesses hard – as well as exacerbating the difficulty that islanders have in travelling when they need to," he said.


"I think it is fair to describe the current situation as a crisis. "

Mr MacLeod said businesses were already "hanging on by their fingernails trying to get through the eight-week closure without going under".

"Having another 10 days foisted on them is unacceptable, especially as we had been told things were on schedule," he said.

"The whole thing is a shambles. I tried to book a ferry from Tarbert [on Harris] on Tuesday evening and the earliest it would allow me to do so was 24th March, yet their website and app were still showing Uig as re-opening on 14th.

The whole thing just shows how little concern Highland Council, Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited [who own the ferries, ports and harbours] and Transport Scotland have for the people of Harris and Uist.

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He said Highland Council chose not to keep the port open during the works, even though the contractor fully expected to have to schedule the works around ferry arrivals.

"This makes us even angrier at the unnecessary damage being caused to our communities," he said.

Another ferry user group official said: "There is not enough recognition over how this disruption affects businesses who are being hit hard by these disruptions and I would not be surprised if there were closures after all this. Ferry operator CalMac said it would be forced to continue with its "continuity plan" with current alternative sailings.

People who have booked to travel between March 14 and 22 have been redirected to alternative ailings.

And Transport Scotland has agreed to extend a charter of the MV Arrow ferry until March 22.

Highlands and Islands' Labour MSP Rhoda Grant said that the "least disruptive option" for repairing Uig had the appeared to be the "most disruptive as last minute cancellations are undertaken and the trust of communities is further undermined".'

A Transport Scotland spokesman said the Uig repairs delay was "regrettable" and that Ms Gilruth had impressed on the Highland Council "the importance of the completion of the works within the additional ten days, acknowledging the concerns and impact to the island communities".