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Caithness Transport Forum update, 2nd August 2013

Road

The big road news this fortnight is the news that average speed cameras are to be installed on sections of the A9. While the sections in question are outwith the area covered by the Forum, this is nonetheless likely to have a knock-on effect on traffic along the entire length of the road, and there have already been serious concerns voiced that speed cameras are not the right approach to the ongoing problems with the road.

The Treasury has announced that they will be examining the possibility of extending the island fuel rebate to remote and rural sections of the mainland. We welcome this news, as inflated fuel prices have long been a concern of businesses and commuters in the area. The Treasury are currently consulting with fuel retailers across the country on this issue - we will be contacting local retailers over the next few days to ensure that the relevant information has been disseminated effectively and to offer assistance where needed.

We have been in touch with Highland Council regarding issues with the provision of bus timetables in Caithness and Sutherland, and will be meeting with Highland Council ands on August 16th to discuss solutions to this problem.

Sea

Representatives of Scrabster Harbour Trust will shortly be travelling to Seatrade Europe, an annual convention for the cruise industry held in Hamburg, to drum up further cruise business for the port. Scrabster Harbour Trust have done a fantastic job already of attracting cruise traffic to the port, and we support their ambitious aim to expand on this - an increase in cruise traffic will have a concomitant effect on the local economy.

Rail

There have been some signalling problems over the last couple of weeks on the line between Wick and Thurso. Network Rail have given assurances that these are now dealt with, but we will continue to keep an eye on the situation and ensure that it doesn't become a long-term problem.

We have recently been in discussion with a representative of the Association of Community Rail Partnerships for Scotland North, who is keen to meet up and discuss the potential benefits a community rail partnership could bring to the Far North Line. We will be meeting with him in early September and look forward to hearing more about the work they do and the potential such a partnership could have for Caithness.

Air

We are delighted to see the continued growth in traffic at Wick John O'Groats Airport - a highly impressive 141.4% increase on the same period last year. However, we note that similar substantial growth in the future is contingent on the continued use of the airport for oil and gas traffic. It is with some concern, therefore, that we note that Chevron are considering re-opening the airport at Baltasound on Unst to service their new developments in the North Sea. We will be working closely with both the Transport Forum and our colleagues in the Wick John O'Groats Airport Consultative Committee to lobby Chevron to bring this new traffic to Wick.

Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) and the Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI) are pushing for a meeting with the Airports Commission to discuss air connections between London and the UK. This is obviously a major concern for the Highlands and Islands as a whole, as well as for remote areas in other parts of the UK, and one likely to seriously impact on the region in coming years. More information on the issues can be found in the SCDI and HIAL responses to the Airports Commissions discussion papers, "Connectivity and the Economy" and "Airport Operational Models"