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Letters / 40 years of neglect

Thanks to Shetland News, I read that a new consultation is underway about transport to the islands (‘Inter island transport talks’, SN 25/8/16), and that there shall be a consultation taking place on Whalsay on Monday 29 August.

I am also familiar with the STAG process, in which all alternatives must be ruled out with proper exploration, and a presentation reasoning why these options are not suitable.

This being the case, why is the option of a new Whalsay mainland terminal at Bonydale not being investigated?
All that would be required would be similar to what was recently built for the community of Fetlar, but on the Shetland mainland. A stretch of road, car park and a ferry pier.

I have asked this question continually down the years, to be told myths about water depth, lack of shelter etc., for which there is no black on white investigation for anyone to see, only speculation.

I know this sheltered stretch of shore like a friend, having passed it thousands of times taking the ferry to Vidlin over the decades.

Bonydale is the closest sheltered shore on the Mainland to Whalsay. This is where Norwegian ferry experts suggested the ferry terminal should be built in the late 1960’s. This advice was ignored – at that time.

Any good seafarer can tell you that a shoreline with grass growing close to where the tide reaches is constantly sheltered: https://www.flickr.com/photos/16549823

This is a picture from the original SIC ferry report in 1968, clearly showing Whalsay and Bonydale linked by a hatched line: https://www.flickr.com/photos/16549823@N06/6683811245/in/album-72157630060303523/

This on a navigation chart: www.flickr.com/photos/16549823@N06/6447828309/in/album-72157630060303523/lightbox/>

As opposed to where the ferry currently travels – over twice the sea journey: www.flickr.com/photos/16549823@N06/6447827209/in/album-72157630060303523/lightbox/>

And to Vidlin, three times the distance: www.flickr.com/photos/16549823@N06/6447832181/in/album-72157630060303523/lightbox/>

For Whalsay this would provide most solutions to many current problems which cannot be solved by any other means: 

  • Open sea crossing – too rough for many travellers;
  • Shorter sea crossing – being less than half the current distance;
  • 20 minutes less ferry travel in exchange for five minutes extra driving;
  • More frequent timetable due to shorter crossing;
  • Better hospital response time for ambulance;
  • Better response time for additional fire service cover – which could currently be hours;
  • Better operation/less delays during maintenance periods or in times of breakdowns;
  • Reduce congestion at peak times due to more ferry frequency for equal cost to the operator;
  • More revenue collected in fares as more crossings during same working hours;
  • End confusion between Skerries/Whalsay ferries operating same terminal with limited parking;
  • End inconvenience of car owners left at mainland terminals having to crowd into vehicles on the ferry to get lifts to collect their own vehicle from Laxo/Vidlin;
  • Remove congested traffic passing outside Vidlin school to ferries;
  • More environmentally friendly service having less fuel burnt by ferries for each passenger delivered;
  • Increased prosperity to Whalsay by more regular service allowing more travel;
  • Increase opportunities for business on the island due to better mainland connection;
  • Increase business revenues across Shetland with islanders having more freedom to shop elsewhere than online
  • Increase population if Whalsay more accessible to commuters;
  • Improved family life for relatives at opposite sides having less sea travel/more options of travel times;
  • End lack of service/long schedule gaps between connections after 1800hrs due to improved schedule/ shorter crossing;
  • Opening another part of Shetland’s rocky shores to a new avenue of tourism. Whalsay is another island alive with wildlife;
  • No requirement to upgrade/replace Laxo terminal;
  • Much more cost effective ferry service, using less fuel per passenger transported.

If the sea crossing becomes too rough from the south, Bonydale could still be reached in calm waters north round the islands between Whalsay and the mainland, still taking less time than travelling to Laxo: www.flickr.com/photos/16549823@N06/6447824615/in/album-72157630060303523/lightbox/>

How can this be dismissed without a proper investigation, when all alternatives must be eliminated by proven reasons? I’m sure the authority behind this study would like to know.

With limited spending, there would only be positives for Shetland as a whole. In pages 13 and 14 of the published online report, I see no improvement close to a comparison with what this has to offer: http://www.shetland.gov.uk/transport/documents/20160816Whalsayv1.2.pdf

The SIC has been running almost exactly the same service to Whalsay for over 40 years. None of the above printed options make much improvement any of the problems which are unchanged during these 40 years, and are still driving people to live outwith the Island. If the options presented are the best that can be done, perhaps the Scotland Office would do a better job of running our ferries.

The Western Isles all seem to have fairly new vessels with harbours to suit. I’m sure locals would welcome this after 40 years of neglect.

I foresee a grim future for a once prosperous community if the options in this report are the best/only on offer for the place I currently treat as my home.

Considering this, Whalsay ferry users need only ask themselves one question. Would you like a new ferry, or a shorter crossing happening more often?

Peter W. Anderson

3 Saeter

Symbister, Whalsay

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