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Audit Scotland to probe brig settlement

FINANCIAL watchdog Audit Scotland is to examine why Shetland Islands Council is paying almost £5 million in an out of court settlement over the unbuilt Bressay bridge.

The news comes as another councillor adds his voice to the call for an internal investigation into the error of judgment that led to the pay out.

The total cost of the aborted plan to build a bridge across Lerwick harbour has cost the council more than £7.2 million.

This week it agreed a £4.8 million settlement with Lerwick Port Authority over its decision in August 2005 to go to court to stop a £6 million dredging contract for the harbour’s north mouth four days before it was due to start.

The dredging would have proved fatal to the council’s plans to build a £23 million bridge to permanently link the isle of Bressay with the town of Lerwick, unlocking land for housing development.

Audit Scotland said on Thursday that it would be looking into the settlement as part of its annual review of the council’s accounts.

A spokesman said: “We routinely cover all material transactions as part of our audit work and anything significant would be mentioned in the annual audit report, which will be available in the autumn.”

Meanwhile Shetland West councillor Gary Robinson has joined the call for a full inquiry into the Bressay bridge “fiasco”, following in the wake of isles MSP Tavish Scott and Lerwick South member Jonathan Wills.

He was one of four members whose attempt to persuade the council to carry out an investigation was defeated on Monday, when the offer was agreed.

He said the reputational damage of this “ill conceived legal adventure” was being compounded by the council’s unwillingness to hold a full, open and transparent inquiry.

“It’s all very well for the council to announce that no one was to blame forwhat happened, but as a maths teacher wouldn’t accept an answer without the workings being shown, the community won’t accept this conclusion without an inquiry,” he said.

“Lessons must be learned, but for that to happen there needs to be clarity as to what went wrong in the first place.”

Mr Robinson did hand out praise to LPA chief executive Sandra Laurenson and the SIC’s former infrastructure director Gordon Greenhil who thrashed out the agreement.

Both organisations have said they wish to put the past behind them and embark on a close working relationship to take advantage of the opportunities being presented by the expanding oil and gas industry west of Shetland, and potential decommissioning work in the North Sea.

The port said the money would help it argue the case for further bank borrowings to build a new quay, a new fish market, and a huge deep water berth at Dales Voe for decommissioning work, which would be its largest project yet if it goes ahead.