SHETLAND MSP Tavish Scott has called on Shetland to unite in opposition to plans to impose parking charges at Sumburgh airport.
Mr Scott will be joined by a large delegation when he meets the chairman of Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL), Grenville Johnston, on Monday, but urged more islanders to add their voice to the campaign.
He said HIAL had long wanted to charge for airport parking in the northern and western isles and he had proof HIAL saw this as a “cash cow” to make up for cuts in its government grant.
The company has already imposed car parking charges on Kirkwall airport and Mr Scott said it was “vital” Shetland sent a clear message to Mr Johnston that his plans were unacceptable.
“The island airports which HIAL runs are different to mainland airports where car parking charges have long been in place,” he said.
“We can’t hop on to a fast train or bus to travel south. Our choice is between the plane or a long overnight crossing on the boat. The dispersed nature of Shetland’s population means that a bus service to the airport cannot replace the car for most travellers.
“Despite the Air Discount Scheme, the cost of flying south to our nearest cities is already high, far higher than the equivalent cost faced by central belt residents using the train to Glasgow or Edinburgh. So to add a car parking charge would not be acceptable, it would just be another tax on island life.”
He added: “There is no doubt that HIAL wants to impose parking charges at Sumburgh. Papers obtained using the Freedom of Information Act by my Orkney colleague Liam McArthur show that HIAL sees Kirkwall, Sumburgh and Stornoway airport car parks as sources of revenue to fill the gap left by the cut the Scottish government has made to its grant.
“HIAL has for long seen these car parks as cash cows. As transport minister I had to block its plans to impose parking charges some years ago. So, if we are to defeat the plan, it is vital that there is a clear and united message from Shetland that we won’t accept the charges.
“Monday’s meeting must make that clear. But it must be backed up by individuals, business and other bodies all making it clear that they strongly oppose car parking charges. I will be happy to pass on to HIAL the views of any constituent who emails or writes to me to set out their opposition.”
Joining Mr Scott at Monday’s meeting in Lerwick will be representatives of Shetland Islands Council, NHS Shetland, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the Sumburgh Airport consultative committee, Northern Constabulary and Dunrossness community council.