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HIAL to survey passengers on car parking charge

HIGHLANDS and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) will finally undertake a survey of airport users to gather views on the forthcoming £3 a day car parking charge at Sumburgh Airport over a month after announcing its controversial plans.

Managing director Inglis Lyon said the results of the three-week survey may allow the government-owned operator to “review and potentially adjust the proposals further ahead of their implementation in July”.

But Shetland Islands Council’s transport committee chairman Ryan Thomson called the survey a “token gesture” and reiterated that “quite simply these proposals won’t work for the vast majority” of Shetlanders.

HIAL chairwoman Lorna Jack, meanwhile, will meet Shetland MSP Tavish Scott and representatives from Shetland Islands Council in the isles on Monday to discuss the situation further.

The airport operator has come under fire for announcing the charges – which will also be applied in Kirkwall and Stornoway – without any prior consultation.

Scott and Thomson this week called on the public to write to HIAL to voice their opposition to the plans.

The new passenger survey will be carried out by independent consultants at the three affected airports from 20 April and will also cover subjects like airport facilities.

Lyon said: “Having announced the plans to introduce the charges, we wanted to get the views of those who use the airports to further understand what we might do to ensure that the proposals work practically for everyone involved.

“HIAL airports are required to operate as cost-effectively as possible and we have developed a sensible, fair and pragmatic funding model that enables us to deliver growth and ensure the vital connectivity to our communities in the Highlands and Islands.

“We have been mindful of the important role that air travel plays for those people who use healthcare facilities and receive medical treatment on the mainland and we have made provision to ensure they will be exempt from the parking charges.”

Lyon added that Jack’s “commitment to sit down with Tavish Scott next week is another important element of the debate around the proposals especially as they have been trying to get the date in the diary for some time”.

Thomson said in response to the survey announcement that HIAL “continues to treat the islands with contempt”.

“The comments from Mr Lyon suggesting that HIAL want to understand the views of the public to ensure these proposals work for everyone…quite simply these proposals won’t work for the vast majority and they will be an additional financial burden on those already paying over the odds to use our lifeline service,” he said.

“The majority of the Shetland public have to use a vehicle as there is no public transport available.

“A token gesture of a consultation at this stage without putting a halt to these charges to consider what may come of the consultation is simply unacceptable.

“I would repeat the request made by myself and Tavish at the beginning of the week for as many locals to contact HIAL to send a strong message that these charges are entirely unacceptable.”

A total of 508 car park spaces are planned at Sumburgh Airport, which will see people given an hour to pick up/drop off passengers for free.