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Caithness Transport Forum update, 30th October 2013

Road

The biggest news since our last update is the ongoing progress towards upgrading the Berriedale Braes. Trudy Morris, chief executive of the Chamber and chair of the Forum, attended two teleconferences, along with Anna MacConnell from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, where various options for the proposed upgrade to the Braes were discussed. Following on from those discussions, URS have now identified two options which they will be taking forward for further investigations. We are delighted to see progress on this and look forward to hearing more from URS on their preferred options soon.

At its last meeting on 25th September 2013, the Forum also received an update from BEAR Scotland, who have now taken responsibility for the North West Unit from Scotland Transerv, on their plans for winter management. The update was comprehensive and we were pleased to note the effort that has already been put in to planning for this winter. See North West Unit Winter Maintenance Fast Facts 2013-14 on the BEAR Scotland website for more information.

Stagecoach have a new operations manager for Caithness and have moved into their new depot at Thurso. They reported at the last meeting that numbers on the X99 service continue to grow and that they have put a larger bus on the service as a result.

The Chamber and Stagecoach continue to work on actions from the Caithness Bus Users Group, including liasing with the NHS on patient transport issues. We recently submitted a response on behalf of the Forum to Iain Gray MSP's consultation on his proposed Bus Regulation (Scotland) Bill.

Sea

Developments at Wick Harbour continue apace, with design work on a new "heavy lift" pad on Commercial Quay 1 complete and tenders due to be issued. This should complement the existing pad on the North River Pier and allow the harbour to work around current restrictions on movement of long / heavy loads imposed by the necessity of transporting loads over bridges in the town. They recently visited SSE's O&M base in Lowestoft on an information-gathering exercise, with a reciprocal visit by the Lowestoft Base Manager arranged by HIE.

Scrabster Harbour are continuing in their efforts to grow their cruise ship business and were recently in attendance at the Seatrade Europe exhibition in Hamburg.

We were delighted to hear that MeyGen Ltd have been granted permission to install a six-turbine tidal array in the Pentland Firth. Marine renewables has considerable economic potential for the area and it is to be hoped that this development will be the start of great things in the sector.

Rail

We welcome the news that Network Rail has started work to install full safety barriers at the Halkirk level crossing. This has been an issue of concern in the area for some time and we are pleased that Network Rail are now taking steps to ensure the safety of motorists at this and other crossings throughout the area.

We recently met with James Wilkin of the Association of Community Rail Partnerships. He is working to set up Community Rail Partnerships in Scotland and is keen to work with Caithness Transport Forum to explore the possibility of a partnership on the far north line. It was agreed that we work with other local organisations such as community councils to explore this possibility, and that James would attend a meeting of the Forum in early 2014 to discuss setting up a partnership.

FirstGroup, one of the three bidders for the Caledonian Sleeper franchise, recently contacted local stakeholders to gather views on how the service could be improved. We submitted a brief response to this, largely in support of North Rail Line Action Group's excellent and detailed response.

Air

We were delighted to hear that passenger numbers at Wick John O'Groats Airport continue to rise. While this is predominantly linked to oil traffic associated with Chevron, it was noted at a recent meeting of the Wick John O'Groats Airport Consultative Committee that touristm and business traffic is also increasing. We were also pleased to note that Loganair have added an additional flight on Friday afternoons, in response to demand from business travellers.

We note that the Airports Commission has recently set out its developing views on the UK's future airport capacity needs. While not of direct impact on the area, capacity constraints at hub airports in the south of England nevertheless have a knock-on effect on regional airports and we look forward to hearing more from the Airports Commission on their proposals for dealing with this issue.