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Confusion erupted on social media this morning (Friday January 21) as the proposals from the government in Edinburgh to consider more fixed links between the islands of the Outer Hebrides were translated into the creation of tunnels to the mainland. 

Typical comments included:"I guess some will mourn the loss of that feeling of independence from the mainland."

Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP Angus MacNeil has today welcomed the initiative by the Scottish Government to look into tunnels on the sounds of Harris and Barra, as well as a tunnel link between Mull and the mainland.

Angus MacNeil said:“This shows that persistence pays, I am glad to see that this has reached government level and Transport Scotland are now looking into the feasibility of tunnels.

“Our neighbours in the Faroe Islands, not too far away, are currently constructing their fourth tunnel with three in operation. It would appear to me that tunnels provide the natural progression in our links, from the causeways that joined the islands in the 90’s and the early part of the century. 

“Now we must catch up with people like the Faroese who have been linking the islands, over lengths of 10km, at about 10million per km to construct. Over 25 years this is very doable and affordable, this could revolutionise transport on the islands and on the west coast of Scotland. 

“ Tunnel links will make it easier for us to travel between the islands and will also give us more options to use other ports to get to the mainland. The tunnel link to Mull would obviously benefit Mull but also Coll and Tiree and could make Tobermory the port in the south end of the west coast.

“We look forward to seeing what the proposals bring forward and I hope that we can follow the Faroese model which is very successful indeed. In the Faroe Islands no one would go back to having ferries once they have the tunnels, similarly with the causeways, people would not want to go back to ferries either in the Hebrides.”

The Scottish Government is looking at the potential for Sound of Harris and Sound of Barra fixed links and a fixed link between Mull and Scottish mainland.

They say the "current ferry routes on the Sound of Harris, Sound of Barra and between Craignure and Oban face a number of issues and challenges.

"Replacing ferry services with fixed links (bridges or tunnels) can improve reliability, connectivity, capacity and crossing times.

"A Sound of Harris fixed link would improve connectivity between the Uists and Lewis/Harris while a Sound of Barra fixed link would improve connectivity between Barra and the Uists.

"The provision of these fixed links would allow for the reconfiguration of transport provision between the Outer Hebrides and the mainland."

This, of course, would likely mean fewer routes, in order to reduce the running costs. 

The provision of a fixed link between Mull and the Scottish mainland would also allow for the reconfiguration of transport provision between the island and the mainland, the government says.

The Net Zero, Energy and Transport secretary Michael Matheson says the plans could: "improve communities access to goods and services, making these islands more attractive for people to live and work in and visit."

The plans are amongst 45 recommendations in the Second Strategic Transport Projects Review which ministers say seek to make Scotland "more sustainable and support people to make better, more informed choices on how they travel.

Transport Scotland said: "When implemented, the changes and measures will play a key role in helping to make the country fairer and greener - by tackling tackle climate change, reducing inequalities and improving our health and wellbeing."

STPR2 recommends that further work is undertaken on business cases to better understand the benefits, costs and challenges associated with these options. These studies would consider the feasibility of replacing existing ferry services currently delivered by CalMac as part of the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services (CHFS) contract. These studies would also ascertain the potential savings associated with the public sector subsidies required to operate the ferry services and involve input from communities that may potentially be affected.

To facilitate ferry vessel renewal and replacement and progressive decarbonisation of the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services (CHFS) and Northern Isles Ferry Services (NIFS) vessels, related investment in port infrastructure will be required.

This would help meet the needs of rural and island communities by improving the capacity, resilience, reliability and accessibility of ferry services. Investment in port infrastructure means that there can be progression to standardisation of new vessels. This investment would also contribute to reducing emissions across the ferry network and support Scotland’s net zero carbon emission targets.

STPR2 recommends an investment programme in port infrastructure, including power supplies, to support STPR2 recommendation, renewal and replacement of the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services (CHFS) and Northern Isles Ferry Services (NIFS) vessels including progressive decarbonisation by 2045.

All this would meet key objectives:

  • Takes climate action
  • Addresses inequalities and accessibility
  • Improves health and wellbeing
  • Supports sustainable economic growth

(The full comments from the MP were added after the article was first posted.)