HIGHLANDS and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) managing director Inglis Lyon has suggested that a lack of time was the reason why the company announced controversial plans for £3 a day car park charge at Sumburgh Airport without any prior consultation.
Lyon admitted that it hadn’t been possible to introduce the plans in a “slower, perhaps more considered way” and explained that HIAL had to go through a “number of hoops” with the Scottish Government on the matter.
He said the charges – due to be implemented from July – are being proposed because “very simply it’s a need for money to continue doing what we’re doing.”
Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon, meanwhile, said on Thursday at the Scottish Parliament that the absence of consultation was “remiss” of HIAL and confirmed she would look into the matter.
Shetland Islands Council transport committee chairman Ryan Thomson has now called for the charge to be delayed to allow an impact assessment to take place.
Proposals to introduce charges at airports at Sumburgh, Kirkwall and Stornoway were met with anger earlier this month, with the move made without prior consultation with the likes of Shetland Islands Council, the Sumburgh Airport consultative committee (SACC) or local MSPs.
SACC met on Thursday and chairman Jimmy Smith conceded that he may resign from his post due to his frustration over the lack of consultation on the plans, which have caused concern particularly in how the bus timetable links up with flight schedules.
He will now write to the Scottish Government and HIAL chairwoman Lorna Jack about the committee’s concerns.
Lyon spoke to committee members in “pre-meeting” discussions but the public and press were excluded, and he came under strong questioning from councillors Allison Duncan and Thomson, as well as Smith.
Speaking at the airport before having to leave the meeting early, Lyon said HIAL will consider over the next three months what “other steps” could be taken.
“We were in a difficult position, because we had to go through a number of hoops with the Scottish Government before we announced the charges. That kind of pushed out our timescale,” he said.
“The second thing is that it’s not just SIC and the Shetland transport committee, it’s also Orkney, and it’s also the Western Isles – so trying to corral everybody together to get everybody lined up to do this in a slower, perhaps more considered way wasn’t possible, so that’s why we decided that what we’re going to have to do is get the announcement out and discuss it with the folk.
“We’ve got three months between now and July the first to see if there’s any other steps that we need to take to make sure this lands well, or as well as can be expected.”
Lyon added financial pressures is the reason why HIAL has decided to look at car park charges again after previously abandoning similar plans in 2010.
“We’re under increasing budgetary constraints as every other public sector organisation is, so A we need to keep an eye on our costs and B to develop the revenue base, and this is what this money gets used for.”
Thomson said after the meeting that he believes no consultation has taken place because HIAL would have faced strong opposition.
“I asked Mr Lyon today to postpone the implementation of car parking charges at Sumburgh Airport until a full and comprehensive impact assessment has been completed and it’s results properly assessed,” he said.
“This cannot be done correctly in the timeframe we are speaking about. HIAL want to implement car parking charges at Sumburgh from 1 July onwards, as far as I’m concerned this is not possible within the timeframe given.
“For something as significant as this an impact assessment and public consultation should be done and I will personally push for this to be done. The conclusion of a public consultation back in 2010 was that this was a ludicrous idea that should not go ahead, and I suspect the result now in 2018 would be the same. Perhaps the main reason why one has not gone ahead.”
Committee chairman considering his future
In a strongly worded letter given out at the meeting, Smith said he is considering resigning from the committee chairman post following the lack of consultation.
“While I have always accepted that the SACC has been a pretty toothless animal, with little bite, it would appear now that we are not even allowed to sit on our arses and bark, but merely lie quietly and occasionally whimper when kicked,” he wrote.
Smith added that the function of the committee had been “totally disregarded by HIAL management”, saying that he was personally “bordering on lividity”.
“In the present state of affairs, this is not a committee I wish to be involved with, and unless in the very near future I receive assurances that the situation will change to give some meaning to the committee, I will have no option but to resign.”
Shetland MSP Tavish Scott asked Sturgeon at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday if she would investigate the matter and overturn the plans.
She confirmed that she would look into the issue further.
Speaking after the commitment was given, Scott said the “public backlash to this deplorable decision shows the depth of feeling there is about this”.
“I welcome the First Minister’s commitment today to look into this issue, and I will continue to press both HIAL and the Scottish Government to reverse this decision,” he added.
The £3 charge for every 24 hours will be waived for passengers having to travel to attend medical and hospital appointments. They will be able to park for free at one of 508 spaces at Sumburgh.
Blue badge holders will be charged for their cars at the same rate as other drivers. There will be provision for blue badge holders within airport car parks and designated parking bays will be provided as close to the terminal as possible.