PRESSURE on the board of government-owned Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) is growing in the ongoing row over new airport car parking charges scheduled to be introduced at three island airports in July this year.
Shetland MSP Tavish Scott has now complained to HIAL chief executive Inglis Lyon after receiving no response to a query directed at the company’s chairwoman Lorna Jack as to why HIAL had not consulted on the highly controversial move.
Shetland News requested an interview with Ms Jack last week but was told the chief executive of the Law Society was away on Easter break.
HIAL dropped a bombshell on communities in Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles last month when it announced the introduction of a £3 per day car parking charge at its airports at Sumburgh, Kirkwall and Stornoway.
The announcement caught local politicians by surprise as there had been no prior consultation with local communities and no impact assessment carried out.
Several community councils in Shetland have already expressed its opposition to the move, as has Shetland Islands Council.
A £3 per day charge at Sumburgh Airport is seen as particularly unreasonable as the existing bus service does not link in with the flight timetable and the airport is a £60 taxi journey away from Lerwick.
The issue will now be top of the agenda when Scott and the chairman of Shetland Islands Council’s transport committee, councillor Ryan Thomson, will meet Scottish transport and islands minister Humza Yousaf later this month.
HIAL operates eleven airports in the north of Scotland and is wholly-owned by the Scottish Government.
During the 2017/18 financial year, HIAL received just over £26 million in subsidies to operate the network. Last year, the company completed a £8 million refurbishment of Sumburgh Airport.
In his letter to Lyon, local MSP Scott said HIAL is treating local people with contempt.
“I have yet to receive any reply from the Chair of the HIAL Board as to whether HIAL will initiate a formal consultation on your plans to instigate the damaging introduction of car parking charges at Sumburgh Airport,” he said.
“I don’t know why your Chair is so hesitant to answer a straight forward question on why HIAL have so far refused to consult.
“I see you claim that HIAL have not had time to consult. That is frankly preposterous. HIAL should be ashamed of its conduct.
“Your strategic plan makes much of consulting with organisations such as the Council. Yet on this, HIAL have done the opposite. HIAL’s actions are the worst example of a government agency treating people with contempt.
“You are also of course aware of the opposition of the Sumburgh Airport Consultative Committee. It is particularly disgraceful too have an airport consultative committee and then treat them with contempt by making an announcement of this magnitude without the courtesy of consulting them.
“I am sure you might recognise the following quote. It is on the HIAL website – ‘The purpose of the Committee is to provide an effective forum in which all matters concerning the development and operation of the airport which have an impact on its users and the surrounding community may be discussed’.”
Late on Monday afternoon HIAL responded to the MSP’s letter.
A spokesman for the company said:”HIAL chair Lorna Jack stated last month that she is happy to meet to discuss car parking charges at Sumburgh with Mr Scott and her offer to him still stands.
“Mr Lyon has met with Shetland Islands councillors and the Sumburgh Airport Consultative Committee to discuss matters.
“HIAL will continue to consult with passengers and other stakeholders ahead of the planned implementation date of 1 July.
“Our position remains that revenue raised through these charges is required to reinvest in maintaining and continuously developing the airports in coming years.”
Installing barriers and ticketing machine at the three airports is expected to cost in the region of £500,000, and investment HIAL hopes to recoup with a 12-month period.