We are still under the ‘Stay at Home’ restrictions as I write, so staffing remains the same as last month, with the office closed – although there is normally someone in, and less staff on the Pier than there would be normally.
Last March we were encouraging everyone to make use of the additional sailings between Mallaig and Armadale, which were to be trialled in March 2020, March 2021 and March 2022. As some of you will be aware, CalMac had been asked to look at potential reductions to the timetable throughout the Network whilst restrictions are still in place. One result of this is that the additional sailings between Mallaig and Armadale will not go ahead this year. Given that our Tourism businesses are still closed and that travel remains for essential purposes only, it would have been difficult to justify these additional sailings, which require an additional vessel to operate. Latest information is that the Winter timetables will be extended to 25th April, with a review mid-March into what the timetables should be from 26th April.
This month has consisted of a lot of background work into the various developments that we hope to undertake around the Harbour. It’s felt like slow progress at times, as everything is so interlinked, but hopefully by the end of the summer you will be starting to notice some visible progress with things like the passenger shelter at the new pontoon and new road markings, especially throughout the ferry marshalling area, which are all part of the traffic management plan for the ferries. One immediate impact from this traffic management plan was CalMac relocating the freight store for the Small Isles to behind the CalMac office, which is designed to reduce the number of delivery vans and lorries having to cross the marshalling area during the busy summer months. Although it might seem strange that the works are getting done now, when the ferry has never been so quiet, it’s a good opportunity to do them with minimum disruption.
The difficulties for our fishing industry associated with Brexit have been well documented, and last month I outlined the impact there has been on landings in Mallaig, mainly due to Coronavirus, but with Brexit as an added layer of complications. Whilst those in the industry were all aware that there would be an increase in paperwork associated with Brexit, the volume and complexity of this paperwork has caused significant issues over the last couple of months. For our smaller vessels, whose catch is likely to end up on a lorry with catch from several other vessels, this has been a particular problem. Whilst the paperwork is designed to provide traceability from the vessel to the final market, and is all well intentioned, the practicalities of adhering to it meant that in January exporters combining catches from several vessels into one consignment shut down their operations for a period, effectively meaning that there was no market for the catch being landed. This has now eased to an extent, but prices are still low. At the beginning of February, the Scottish Government announced additional funding which included £6.45 million for the Seafood Producers Resilience Fund to directly support fishing vessels and aquaculture businesses; £300,000 to assist the welfare and support activities of the Fishermen’s Mission; and £1million to support the investment plans of ports and harbours. Mallaig Harbour Authority has successfully applied for £180,000 to install shore power for our fishing fleet, which has to be spent by the end of the financial year.
On 20th February, we welcomed the Ronja Christopher for her first visit to Mallaig. The Ronja Christopher one of the latest additions to the Sølvtrans fleet, built in 2020, and was in Mallaig to load smolts. She is 70m long, with a beam of 18m, so is one of the largest in the fleet.
Last month’s Westword (our local Community Newspaper) included a consultation from Mallaig Community Council about parking in Mallaig. As a Harbour, we know that this is a contentious issue. Mallaig wasn’t designed for the number of vehicles that are on the road now, and the village is also in the unique position of having a number of communities (Small Isles and Knoydart) who have to park in Mallaig in addition to the more local residents. Over the years, the Harbour has had a number of requests for additional parking, and we did have a request from the Community Council in December to consider creating additional parking as part of the new development that we have been discussion for the Outer Harbour. Mallaig Harbour already provides in excess of 85 parking spaces, mainly on a permit system, and we have a waiting list for these spaces, so we know that there is demand for more. These spaces are used by Harbour users, including fishermen; local businesses; and residents from the Small Isles and Knoydart. However, providing car parking is not actually an efficient use of Harbour land either in terms of the commercial demands on the limited space we have, or the income to Mallaig Harbour. As a result, we are not intending to provide any additional parking, except to service new buildings that might come about as part of the new development. We would encourage everyone with an interest to make their views known, as it all helps the Community Council strengthen any case for additional parking to Highland Council and the Scottish Government.