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SIC reiterates funding call after HIAL meeting

The Sumburgh Airport car park. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

SHETLAND Islands Council officials have reiterated their call for Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) to be “properly funded” by the Scottish Government after holding fresh talks on controversial plans to introduce a car parking charge at Sumburgh Airport.

Council representatives met members of HIAL in Lerwick on Wednesday afternoon to discuss its plans to charge people £3 a day to park at its Sumburgh, Kirkwall and Stornoway airports.

Councillors previously requested that the plans – which are scheduled to be implemented on 1 July – be formally halted to allow an impact assessment to be carried out.

Work on erecting vehicle barriers at Sumburgh, however, has already been stopped temporarily due to concerns raised by the council over road safety.

HIAL says the charge is “based upon our need for continued investment in our facilities and associated services to ensure they remain fit for purpose for airlines and passengers alike.”

SIC leader Steven Coutts: "The airport is our lifeline link and we believe HIAL should be properly funded to maintain the operation for island residents". Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland News

Speaking after the meeting, council leader Steven Coutts said the talks were “constructive and achieved a better understanding of the constraints of HIAL’s operations and their challenges of maintaining 11 airports”.

“Sumburgh’s growth is a success story and has reduced its call on subsidy. The airport is our lifeline link and we believe HIAL should be properly funded to maintain the operation for island residents,” he added.

Transport committee chairman Ryan Thomson added: “We call on our transport and islands minister to ensure that with the passing of the islands bill into law, he will ensure that the HIAL subsidy distribution is ‘island-proofed’.”

It is believed that the charge is now unlikely to go ahead from the start of July, however, due to the concerns over road safety.

HIAL previously admitted that it is looking into moving the location of the proposed barriers.

It is understood that plans for the barriers may have to go through either the local authority’s planning committee or the full council, potentially causing a further delay to the process.

Following Wednesday’s meeting, HIAL managing director Inglis Lyon said: “I think both sides understand each other’s position much more clearly after our meeting and I am grateful to Shetland Islands Council for their time today.

“We will continue our ongoing dialogue with council officers around technical issues to ensure a mutually satisfactory resolution.”

The meeting between the council and HIAL went on for longer than expected – so much so that Lyon is said to have missed his flight back to Inverness.