GOVERNMENT agency Transport Scotland has said the introduction of car park charges at airports in Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles is “necessary” to pay for maintenance and improvements.
A spokesman for the agency added that government subsidies provided to operator Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) needs to be “balanced with a fair level of charges” to customers.
The defence of the proposed charges – which will come into force from 1 July and include a £3 a day fee at Sumburgh – comes after Shetland’s MSP and the chairman of Shetland Islands Council’s (SIC) transport committee penned a joint letter to Scottish transport minister Humza Yusaf to criticise HIAL’s lack of consultation over the plans.
MSP Tavish Scott and councillor Ryan Thomson pressed for Yousaf – who is also the Scottish islands minister – to “call a halt to these proposals and ensure HIAL initiate a proper, appropriate consultation”.
Thomson previously said an impact assessment should be carried out before any charges are implemented.
Yousaf is willing to meet the MSP and councillor to discuss their concerns.
Their letter came after Scottish first minster Nicola Sturgeon said it was “remiss” of HIAL not to hold a consultation before announcing its plans.
HIAL is a public corporation wholly owned by the Scottish Government, which provides subsidies to support the running of 11 airports.
Managing director Inglis Lyon met members of the Sumburgh Airport consultative committee – which had been left in the dark over the plans – on Thursday, and he told the press afterwards that HIAL had to go through a “number of hoops” with the government before announcing the proposals.
Shetland News asked Transport Scotland for an interview with Yousaf in response to Scott and Thomson’s letter, but it instead provided a statement.
A spokesman said “we recognise that HIAL’s extension of car parking charges is necessary in order to fund the maintenance and improvement of facilities at their airports.”
“HIAL is non-profit making and the revenue raised from the parking charges will be directly reinvested in the airports,” he added.
“The minister for transport and the islands is willing to meet with Mr Scott and councillor Thomson to discuss this issue further, as well as wider transport matters.
“The Scottish Government provides significant subsidy to HIAL to support its activities which in 2017-18 totals over £26 million.
“This needs to be balanced, however, with a fair level of charges to customers (including airlines, passengers, and tenants) for the use of those services.”
The spokesman reiterated that the issue of consultation was a matter for HIAL.
Some locals have claimed that £3 a day is reasonable value compared to 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.
Shetland South councillor Allison Duncan has become the latest critic of the plans, saying that they would add an extra financial burden on people using Sumburgh Airport.