Cromarty Community Development Trust objects to Highland Council's proposed £10,000 cut to the Cromarty to Nigg ferry with residents urged to lobby councillors
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A Black Isle development trust has lobbied Highland councillors ahead of tomorrow's budget meeting and residents are being urged to do likewise.
Fraser Mackenzie, the director of Cromarty Community Development Trust, has emailed a letter to members of Highland Council after it was revealed that it was planning to cut the funding for the Cromarty to Nigg ferry.
Mr Mackenzie is objecting to the move which would see £10,000 cut from the subsidy for the running of the service this year.
He described the reduced funding as a counter-productive proposition.
Mr Mackenzie has put forward a number of reasons that the subsidy should remain at its current level including that it may actually result in Highland Ferries simply not operating the service at all during 2021– which he claims is a real possibility given the current uncertainties over the economy reopening in a timely manner.
Secondly he said the claimed that the reduction could simply be recouped by raising prices ignored the fact that the fares on the route were already the highest per mile in Scotland – a return trip for a car plus passenger and driver is already £22.50 for a distance of about 1.1km.
Mr Mackenzie said that the proposed £10,000 cut was "an absolute drop in the ocean" when compared with sums given out by the council to businesses hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The development trust has successfully managed to raise the funds for the raising, design and implementation of the Nigg and Cromarty slipways – an infrastructure project costing £300,000 completed on time and on budget.
He said: "Many Covid impacted businesses in Cromarty and the Seaboard Communities – including hotels, B&Bs, shops and pubs – benefit significantly from the ferry being in place and their recovery will be diminished by not having the ferry there, which is a risk if the subsidy is reduced to an unsustainable level this year."
The long term plan, of development trust and Highland Ferries, is to acquire a larger ferry which will be able to accommodate bigger vehicles such as camper vans and thus provide a better service.
According to the council budget report, which will be presented to councillors at tomorrow's meeting, the ferry was not an all-year lifeline route, but some care homes in the vicinity used the route as part of an excursion for their residents and it was suggested that a possible mitigation could be to arrange a special fare for such trips.
The report added: "This is not a lifeline ferry service. This ferry forms a link – summer only – between rural communities in the Black Isle and Easter Ross. A community-led project, funded from the Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund, has recently completed improvement works on the slipways to avoid the risk of structural failure and to be able to accommodate a larger vessel."
According to the report it was not considered that there would be any significant socio-economic impacts as a result of the cut to the subsidy as the main custom from the ferry was from "seasonal tourist usage" and it was not intended to completely remove the subsidy given, meaning that a modest increase in fares would be expected.
It added: "The ferry is mostly used by tourists and day trippers and contributes to the tourist economy of Cromarty and other places in the Black Isle. It also forms part of the National Cycle Route.
"This approach aligns with fare increases on the main council run service at Corran and equates well to comparable Calmac ferry fees. It is not a life-line service and therefore should not impact upon low income households.
"Capacity, and therefore revenue earning potential, is restricted by the size of the vessel used, and if the operator could acquire a slightly larger vessel, the revenue would be enhanced."