Friday, 27 June 2014


There has been a sense of are you sure we didn’t miss something about the new ferry ship, the MV Loch Seaforth. This is due to come into service on the Stornoway - Ullapool route in September. Already, questions are being raised by local councillors whether it provides sufficient capacity to cover the island’s needs. Generally, the current ferry services (note: plural) are held to be insufficient to enhance the Western Isles economic development.
When the idea of a replacement for the good ole Isle of Lewis was thought up, an idea was mooted to have two ships plying the Minch. However, it was decided to build just one large ferry. Not until after the keel was laid did anybody think about the port infrastructure in both Ullapool and Stornoway, and a dash is currently on to have everything in place in time for the arrival of the LS. A notice outside the Stornoway works, however, intimates that the proposed date for completion is November 2014.

Thursday, 26 June 2014


Hebrides News today reported on interconnectors to the Scottish islands, like the Outer Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland. I’m afraid I have some serious questions to ask about the facts presented therein.

The article closes by saying: “One key advantage of marine renewables, and of the wind resource on Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles, is that its output is less correlated with wind generation on the mainland. This helps to smooth intermittency effects elsewhere on the system.”

Shall we get the phraseology right? Electricity generated by wind power. Wind generation is something that mother nature does. It doesn’t matter where wind is used to generate electricity - it is inconsistent, unpredictable and inefficient. Intermittency effects are part and parcel of “wind generation”, because the wind does not blow at a consistent speed at our latitude.

I also question the figures quoted in the article. In six years from now, 4 tera (that’s a million million) watt hours of electricity will be generated in these islands. What on earth is going to do that? Marine technology is still being developed, and even the proposed windfarm at Muaitheabhal (Eishken) only has an output of 120 MWh.

Over the past number of years, it has become clear that there is a huge push on to have the interconnector constructed between Gravir and Dundonnell on the mainland, in spite of the fact that the benefits of wind-energy are increasingly being called into question. If it weren’t for vast government subsidies, the majority of windfarms in Scotland would not have been built, or even proposed. Opposition to those schemes is leading to increasing numbers of proposals being binned.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Pairc buy-out: success at last

After a lengthy, convoluted and at times acrimonious journey, the community of the Pairc Estate have voted to buy the estate from landlord Barry Lomas. The outcome of the ballot was announced this evening, with 166 in favour and 77 against, out of a turn-out of just over 62%.

This buy-out has taken more than ten years. I am pleased that it has proved successful in the end, and would like to wish the Pairc Trust good luck, prosperity and foresight in their management of the estate.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Lews Castle accommodation

It is reported that Comhairle nan Eilean Siar have awarded the lease for the provision of accommodation at Lews Castle to the company Natural Retreats. It is worth noting that this accommodation will not just comprise of self-catering units, but also of serviced accommodation (read: hotel rooms), a fact that continues to be omitted from local news reports.

A couple of years ago, the Comhairle finally managed to secure funding for the refurbishment of the Castle, which has lain in disrepair for years. This work is now nearing completion, meaning that the Castle can be put to use for the benefit of the whole of the Western Isles. Natural Retreats will be paying a commercial rent until at least 2044, and contribute towards the cost of the refurbishment.

Local providers of self-catering accommodation are opposed to this move on the grounds that the Castle development will stand in direct competition to their businesses.
The Council is obliged to obtain best value for money from the use of its assets, in this case Lews Castle. It is my conviction that they will have weighed up pros and cons. There will also have been a tendering exercise, as they are obliged to do under European laws, as a result of which Natural Retreats has been awarded the lease.

Further details are to be worked out in the next few weeks and months.
The Castle will open to the public next year. Apart from accommodation, it will host a cafeteria and a museum and archives section.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Harbour works

On 8 September this year, the new ferry MV Loch Seaforth will arrive in Stornoway. She is due to take over from the current vessel, MV Isle of Lewis at a later stage.  As the new ferry is larger, and has a greater capacity for vehicles, the marshalling and carparking areas around the ferry terminal have to be enlarged. Works will commence, and those involved in the construction (like the contractors, Calmac and police) ask the public for patience. This article on the Stornoway Gazette website will outline the impact in the interim.
The main points for the next few weeks:
  • Staff and long-stay carpark has closed
  • Carpark at pier no 1 will be closed from 18 April
  • Ferry will dock at pier no 1 from 5 May
Detailed plans are on display in Stornoway ferry terminal, in the bay to the left of the entrance from the carpark.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Lews Castle

For quite a few years now, Lews Castle has lain derelict and unusued. The building was in state of disrepair, but is currently being refurbished. Comhairle nan Eilean Siar have been in the process of getting a private sector operator to take on the running of the Castle as an accommodation provider. Also included in the Castle project is a section for the Western Isles Museum (currently closed).

The Chief Executive of CnES has penned a letter to Hebrides News, outlining the current state of affairs.

I am very pleased that this iconic building is finally going to be put to good use. It has always saddened me to have had to tell visitors that you can’t enter the Castle. As of next year, we will be able to.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Pairc buy-out: vote suspended

Whatever next, in this saga. Because an amicable deal could not be reached before the deadline of 7 March, the vote among the residents of Pairc has been called off. If no deal can be reached, the hostile buy-out bid will be resumed. Should it be possible to iron out those final glitches, then a new ballot will be organised. I think it is ominous that the deal could not be finalised ahead of yesterday’s deadline, and completely in character for the way this buy-out bid has progressed, or failed to progress more to the point.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Pairc buy-out

Voting is underway among residents of the Pairc Estate in the South Lochs area of Lewis, to determine whether they wish to accept a deal with current landowner Barry Lomas. The result of the vote will be known on March 13th. I have written extensively about this case, and it only remains for me to conclude that although the road has been hard, long and dirty, it would appear that the community of Pairc now has ownership of (most of) its land within its grasp.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Ferry tales, ferry woes

The ferry service from Stornoway to Ullapool (and back) has been having a very bad winter, and not just due to the bad weather. A stormy period of two months came to an end in early February, but that is pretty much par for the course here. What is not, is the litany of mishaps that has bedeviled the boats.

It started when the MV Clipper Ranger crashed into pier number 1, and required a spell in drydock to repair her buckled plating. Her replacement, the MV Hebridean Isles, suffered a similar fate, but the damage to that boat could be fixed at Stornoway in a day. Meanwhile, the MV Isle of Lewis, was in drydock at Birkenhead for three weeks for its annual overhaul. Upon return to the run, she encountered a very rough crossing last Friday morning, and upon arrival at Ullapool, her rudder was found to be faulty. That could not be fixed locally either, so at the moment of typing, she is being patched up prior to returning to drydock in Birkenhead. The replacement vessel is the MV Isle of Arran, a much smaller vessel and local rumour has it that passengers are shipped on the Arran whilst their vehicles go on the Clipper Ranger. Allegedly.
Isle of Arran
Hebridean Isles

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Clipper Ranger

Our new freight ferry, the Clipper Ranger, suffered a mishap last Tuesday (28 January), when she lost all power whilst manoeuvering to dock at pier no 1 here in Stornoway. As a result, the impetus of the ship carried her forcefully into the pier. Then she bounced off the fendering and drifted in the harbour, narrowly missing running aground in the Castle Grounds.
The damage to the ship necessitated it being patched up prior to it being taken to drydock in Liverpool for repairs.

For the time being, the MV Hebridean Isles is taking freight back and forth to Ullapool


This morning, a 5.5 metre high tide overtopped the quays at Stornoway and flooded part of the town centre. North Beach was well under water, and police had closed Cromwell Street, North Beach Street and Castle Street. Some intrepid people even got their surfboards out.
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