With news this week that Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has awarded a £10.1m contract to marine, civil engineering and building contractor, L&M Keating Ltd to carry out upgrade works at Lochmaddy Pier in North Uist, the cost to taxpayers of the new ferry for Uist-Skye-Harris triangle has finally become apparent.

The costs of the similar port works at Uig - where the port is owned by Highland Council -  are expected to be £30m while back in September 2019 Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL) awarded a £14.3 million contract to civil engineering and building contractor, RJ McLeod Limited to carry out upgrade works at Tarbert Ferry Terminal which is owned by CMAL. 

That means a total of £55m for shore works – while the cost of the two ferries being slowly constructed in Glasgow is now expected to total at least the original £97m plus an additional £110m - meaning a cost for the Uist-Skye-Harris triangle of about £105m.

That means at least a £160m cost for a service from a ferry that's expected to be able to carry around 1000 passengers, 127 cars or 16 HGVs. The present Hebrides ferry can carry 612 passengers and 90 cars. The new ferry is expected to be delivered four years late. According to data available on line, the new design ferry will have a speed of 14.5 knots compared to the Hebrides speed of 16.5 knots.

The MV Loch Seaforth, the single ferry on the Stornoway to Ullapool route, came in at a cost of £42m from Germany. The boat was originally leased in 2014 by CMAL from banking giant Lloyds for a planned eight year lease costing around £36m, with another £31m spent on infrastructure upgrades to the harbours. However, last year, CMAL purchased the Loch Seaforth, the largest ferry in the fleet, costing the Scottish Government another £36 million.

In contrast, Pentland Ferries - which provides the hour-long short crossing to Orkney travelling across the Pentland Firth between St Margaret’s Hope, Orkney, to Gills Bay, Caithness - has just taken delivery of the MV Alfred, which has been named after Pentland Ferries’ owner and managing director, Andrew Banks’ father.

MV Alfred has a carrying capacity for 430 passengers and 98 cars, or 54 cars and 12 articulated vehicles/coaches.

Facilities on board MV Alfred include two lounges with seating, two cafeteria lounges, a children’s play area, an indoor sundeck lounge, outdoor seating area, cafeteria and wheelchair lift. It joins the MV Pentalina in the Pentland Ferries fleet and is being hailed as the most environmentally-friendly ferry service of its kind in Scotland, with a shore-based wind turbine providing power when the vessel is docked overnight and energy-efficient LED lighting onboard throughout.

The catamaran vessel was built in Vietnam for a reported cost of £14m. It has a top speed of 16 knots.

Looking at the cost and length of road tunnels in the Faroe Islands and Norway, the Faroes are building two road tunnels - length almost 18km - for £221m. The Little Minch at its narrowest is 23 km wide. The longest road tunnel in the world is the Laerdal Tunnel in Norway and is 24.5km long. It cost £95m to construct in 1995-2000.

The world’s longest twin-tube tunnel is in China, the Zhongnanshan Tunnel passing through the Qinling mountains in Shaanxi province, at 18.02km long. It was opened in January 2007 after nearly five years of construction and at a cost of £315.7. Included in these costs are coloured and patterned lighting of artificial plants and pictures of clouds over the roof to keep drivers alert!

Back in Lochmaddy, Keating will be responsible for completing all civil engineering works for the harbour upgrade project, including pier strengthening and extension, upgraded fendering, land reclamation and seabed dredging. The work will commence in January 2020 and is expected to be completed in spring 2021. 

CalMac will continue to operate ferry services during the works.

The infrastructure upgrade work at Lochmaddy is part of the Skye Triangle Infrastructure Project, which involves significant harbour upgrades at the three ports at Tarbert, Lochmaddy and Uig. The work is designed to improve and modernise harbour facilities and prepare the way for new vessels.

Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands Paul Wheelhouse said: “I am very pleased to see the planned upgrade of Lochmaddy Pier moving forward with the award of this contract, following the recent award of the contract for construction works at Tarbert on the Isle of Harris.

“Work can now begin on the construction phase of the project, which will deliver an improved experience for the passengers who use these important services.

“Transport Scotland continues to work with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, The Highland Council and CMAL in the delivery of our ambitious plans for the facilities at the three ports of Tarbert, Lochmaddy and Uig through the Skye Triangle Infrastructure Project. I look forward to seeing this project help to further improve connectivity from and to the Western Isles, with subsequent benefits for the local economy.”

Councillor Uisdean Robertson, Chair of the Comhairle’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said: “We are very pleased to have reached this very important milestone in the delivery of infrastructure improvements for the wider Skye Triangle route.

"We look forward to continuing to work with Transport Scotland, with CMAL and now with Keating in making significant improvements to the pier and marshalling areas at Lochmaddy.

"We are confident that the investment in port infrastructure across the Skye Triangle route will make a significant contribution to growing and sustaining efficient and effective transport links for the islands.”

Looking back, CMAL placed orders for two new ferries with Ferguson Marine Engineering Ltd (FMEL) in October 2015. The ferries were to be delivered on a fixed-price basis under a design and build contract, with a combined fixed-price of £97m. The vessels are to be powered by hybrid marine gas oil/Liquid Natural Gas-powered engines, which are a world first for sea-going passenger and vehicle roll-on roll-off ferries.

The first ferry, MV Glen Sannox (vessel 801) was due to be delivered in summer 2018, with the second ferry (vessel 802) slightly later.

The Minister for Transport and the Islands wrote to the Committee on 9 November 2017, highlighting a delay in the delivery of the ferries with vessel 801 delayed until Winter 2018/19 and vessel 802 some time later.

The Cabinet Secretary wrote again to the Committee on 16 August 2018 to advise that “…the first vessel, the MV Glen Sannox, will be delivered during Summer 2019 and the second vessel in Spring 2020”.

The Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands, wrote to the Committee on 25 April 2019 advising that he anticipated a further delay to the delivery of both vessels.

The directors of FMEL filed a notice of intention to appoint administrators on 8 August 2019, effectively starting the process which would place the business in administration.

On 2 December 2019, the Scottish Government confirmed that it had taken the Ferguson Marine shipyard into public ownership following the rejection by administrators of three commercial bids for the company.

On 18 December 2019, the Scottish Government published the Ferguson Marine Programme Review Board report, which indicated a delivery range for vessel 801 of October to December 2021 and a delivery range of July to October 2022 for vessel 802, with an estimated outstanding cost for delivery of the two ferries of £110.3m.