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Bressay brig saga to end ‘out of court’

Spanning the north mooth of Lerwick Harbour - An image of the Bressay Brig taken from a council study.

CASH-strapped Shetland Islands Council may fork out millions of pounds next week on an out of court settlement with Lerwick harbour over an unbuilt bridge that has already cost the authority more than £1 million.

The payment, which must be agreed by both sides, follows a long running dispute after the council blocked the port from dredging its northern channel just four days before the work was due to begin.

Since 1997 the council had been planning to build a £23 million bridge across the northern entrance to the port, connecting Lerwick to the isle of Bressay.

The bridge plan split opinion on Bressay, but would have expanded house building opportunities for townsfolk, while eliminating the need for the regular ferry across the harbour for islanders and tourists.

Lerwick Port Authority made it clear from the start that it opposed the plan, insisting a bridge threatened its own plans to widen and deepen the northern channel to accommodate larger vessels.

In return the council said it could not afford to build a bridge tall and wide enough to cross a widened channel.

When the port signed a £6.5 million contract with Dutch dredging multinational Jan de Nul with work due to start on 9 August 2005, the council panicked.

Without consulting fellow members, council convener Sandy Cluness and former chief executive Morgan Goodlad used emergency powers to obtain an interim interdict from the Court of Session to block the dredging four days before work was to commence.

They acted on the advice of former infrastructure director Graham Spall who said dredging would be fatal to plans for a bridge.

Fifteen months later Lord Reed ruled in favour of the port, saying the council had no right to stop the dredging. This set off a new legal battle to recover the money the port lost from abandoning the original contract and retendering.

Since then the port has gone ahead with slightly modified dredging plans, but with demand for dredging equipment at a premium the price increased to £12 million. The work was completed in October 2009, three years behind schedule.

The port has now claimed £5.85 million compensation, which it says will cover its financial losses.

Meanwhile the council has abandoned all plans to build any bridges in Shetland, instead pursuing a policy of raising £300 million to build four tunnels to its main islands, including Bressay.

On Monday councillors meet to agree an out of court settlement with the port that would negate the need for the two parties to meet up in the Court of Session on 9 October as planned.

The port authority will meet on Tuesday afternoon to decide if they will accept the council’s offer.

The payment comes at an embarrassing time for the council, which is asking islanders to swallow a 22 per cent cut in spending that one report suggests could cost 600 jobs in the public and private sector.