THE proposed axing of the direct bus service between Wick and John O’Groats could create “significant damage to the local economy” and to the lives of people in the area, it was claimed yesterday.
The Rev Lyall Rennie, the Pentland parish locum minister, was speaking out against the plan by Stagecoach to terminate the service at Keiss. He said it would impact on local people, tourists and Gills ferry users.
Bill Mowat, the chairman of the Gills Harbour Ltd, also criticised the proposal and said it came as “a great shock” to the directors.
Like Mr Rennie, he has written to Stagecoach North managing director David Liston urging the company to rethink its plan.
Mr Mowat said if the changes were to go ahead on August 20 there would be no direct bus link from Wick to John O’Groats apart from the weekday school service.
“There would be no direct link for tourists from the top tourist destinations in Caithness – John O’Groats and the Castle of Mey – to one of the two major towns in Caithness,” he said.
“There would be no direct link from Wick to the busiest Orkney vehicle ferry port in Caithness or the main passenger-only ferry port. And there would be no direct link to Caithness General Hospital, the main council offices, courts or main shopping facilities in Caithness.
“The only way people could get to Wick would be by Thurso or Castletown. Maybe they think everyone gets to John O’Groats by bicycle or by walking.”
Mr Mowat would like Stagecoach to carry out extensive consultations on both sides of the Pentland Firth before making a decision.
Mr Rennie said: “This is a rural parish and folk must travel to Wick for shopping and other services. John O’Groats is a significant tourist attraction which is visited by many hundreds of visitors each year.
“These changes would make it much more difficult for folk on foot to visit John O’Groats.
“The Gills Bay ferry terminal serves the Pentland Ferries service to Orkney. There are many foot passengers travelling to and from Orkney who need a bus service to connect with the ferry service.”
Mr Rennie, who lives in Canisbay, said that in the past Stagecoach provided “an excellent service” which was co-ordinated with the ferry times. “This is a fragile rural community and for many the bus service is a lifeline.”
A spokeswoman for Stagecoach North Scotland said there had been a decrease in the number of bus passenger journeys made to Gills Bay over a number of years.
She said the company would continue to support the ferry connection between Scrabster and Stromness. It is the preferred ferry connection for bus passengers travelling between Caithness and Orkney, she said.
“We have proposed these service revisions to use our resources in the most efficient way and have designed these on local feedback gathered from communities in Caithness,” the spokeswoman said. “We continue to welcome feedback on our proposals until June 22 before finalising our plans for registration.”