SHETLAND Islands Council members have united to call on Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) to halt its proposed car park charging scheme at Sumburgh Airport.
A motion presented by new leader Steven Coutts and transport committee chairman Ryan Thomson was backed by councillors at a meeting in Lerwick on Wednesday.
The issue, meanwhile, will be debated at the Scottish Parliament today (Thursday).
The council motion said the implementation of the £3 a day charge should be stopped until an “islands impact assessment” is carried out on the controversial proposal.
The motion added that “Shetland Islands Council expresses its extreme disappointment” that it wasn’t consulted prior to the charge – which will also be introduced at Kirkwall and Stornoway – being announced.
HIAL previously said that “we continue to survey airport users, are talking to stakeholders and listening to views within the communities.”
Thomson told the meeting that there had been “numerous contradictions” from senior members of the government-owned HIAL about whether the charges are being introduced to promote sustainability or encourage growth.
He expressed concern that HIAL may seek to increase the charge next year if its funding gap at Sumburgh Airport, which usually has a deficit of between £400,000 and £600,000, persists.
Shetland South councillor George Smith suggested more emphasis should be placed on pressuring the Scottish Government on the matter – something which Thomson backed.
“The Scottish Government needs to take a level of responsibility,” he said.
But he warned that dialogue with the airport operator needed to be a two-way street.
“We can only engage with HIAL if they are willing to engage with us,” Thomson said.
The North Isles councillor added that a recent request to transport and islands minister Humza Yousaf for HIAL to pause the implementation was declined.
Lerwick North councillor John Fraser, meanwhile, took aim at Yousaf and implored him to stick up for Shetland in the matter.
“It’s about time that the islands minister lived up to his title,” he said.
Shetland North councillor Alastair Cooper questioned how public transport could enter the equation on the issue if the bus timetable doesn’t fit in with the flight schedule – especially if incoming planes are delayed.
Mark Burgess, speaking via telephone, questioned what impact the car park charges might have on road safety in Sumburgh if people decide to ditch their vehicles elsewhere and walk to the airport.
Lerwick South member Peter Campbell, meanwhile, suggested that decisions like this should be covered by “island-proofing” – while he also raised the idea that the Northern Isles ferry service, which is already facing capacity issues, may get even busier as a result of the charges.
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