SHETLAND’s MSP and the SIC’s transport committee chairman have written a joint letter to Scottish transport minister Humza Yousaf demanding a consultation into the introduction of car park charges at airports including Sumburgh.
Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) announced earlier this month that it intends to introduce a £3 a day charge for car parking at Sumburgh Airport from July.
However, the SIC and the Sumburgh Airport consultative committee were not informed of HIAL’s plans prior to the announcement.
MSP Tavish Scott and SIC councillor Ryan Thomson have now called on Yousaf, who is also the islands minister, to “halt to these proposals and ensure HIAL initiate a proper, appropriate consultation”.
HIAL managing director Inglis Lyon met consultative committee members on Thursday, but their discussion on the proposed charge was held in private despite councillor Allison Duncan calling for the press to be included.
Lyon later suggested that a lack of time was a reason why HIAL – which is funded by the Scottish Government – announced the charges without any consultation, reiterating that the plans were driven by the need to generate more income.
He added that HIAL was in a “difficult position, because we had to go through a number of hoops with the Scottish Government before we announced the charges”.
Lyon’s visit to Shetland came on the same day that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament that it was “remiss” of HIAL not to hold any consultations, with the politician vowing to look into the matter.
Scott said he is “pleased to join councillor Ryan Thomson and colleagues across the SIC in demanding that HIAL conduct a full and open consultation on their proposal to charge for car parking at Sumburgh. We have spoken with one voice.”
“Today we are asking the transport minister to accept that his government’s normal approach to consult on a policy decision that affects thousands of islanders has been ignored by his own airport quango. That is unacceptable,” he added.
“Therefore we trust that the First Minster will be as good as her word last week in Holyrood and agree with us that a full consultation with islanders, the SIC and many other businesses must now take place, before any imposition of charges at Sumburgh.”
Previous proposals in 2010 to introduce car parking charges at Sumburgh were shelved following consultation.
Some locals have claimed that £3 a day is reasonable value compared to other airports on the mainland, but many have suggested the bus network is not suitable for air passengers travelling from around the isles who may decide against taking their car.
The full letter from Scott and Thomson, meanwhile, is as follows:
“We write jointly to ask that you halt the imposition of car parking charges at Sumburgh Airport. HIAL have not consulted in Shetland on this. Their own strategic plan makes much of key stakeholders and yet, on this, they propose to impose a plan which has major implications for the travelling Shetland public. We believe that the Scottish Government’s own consultation procedures, precedents and requirements would mean that you should insist that HIAL operate consistently with those. Indeed, we cannot see how they can possibly be allowed not to consult. There are related and important questions for the HIAL Board about governance and their conduct. We are sure that you may wish to review their role too.
“You will be aware that the Sumburgh Airport Consultative Committee, on which we both sit, was not consulted. We are not sure what the point of a “Consultative” committee is if its main sponsor, HIAL, do not consult with it. We are aware of the very strong letter that its chairman, Mr J.L.B Smith, has written to you and we share his misgivings about the conduct of HIAL. Mr Smith has a considerable record of public service to Shetland and for him to be treated in this way by the Board and senior management of HIAL is, we believe, at best inappropriate and at worst, beneath contempt.
“On the practicalities as you are all too well aware, Sumburgh is 25 miles from Lerwick. There is a limited bus service that serves communities between the two places. It is not a direct airport connection unlike those bus services that operate at other airports such as Inverness. In addition, there is no direct connection by public transport to other communities across Shetland.
“We are grateful for the answer the First Minister gave in Holyrood last Thursday. Both in terms of agreeing to look into this and her observation that such a decision taken without consultation was “remiss”. Given that, we would again trust that you will call a halt to these proposals and ensure HIAL initiate a proper, appropriate consultation.
“We would of course be happy to discuss this with you. We are sure you will understand the sense of dismay and anger about the pre-emptive nature of HIAL’s conduct and our requirement that this is stopped forthwith.
“We look forward to your early response on this.”