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Highlands and Islands MSP wants action on fixed links

Highlands and Islands list MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston. Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland News
Highlands and Islands list MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston. Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland News

AN MSP has called for more studies to be carried out into the cost of increasing the number of fixed links in Shetland and Orkney.

Highlands and Islands list member Jamie Halcro Johnston said fixed links like bridges or tunnels would bring economic advantages to outlying islands, and he highlighted the proposed space centre in Unst as a project which could benefit from more robust transport connections.

The Conservative was speaking after visiting Whalsay and Yell earlier this week.

Shetland Islands Council (SIC) chief executive Maggie Sandison previously confirmed that transport links in the North Isles is on the agenda after the local authority signed an agreement with the space centre team and aerospace giant Lockheed Martin.

Shetland’s transport partnership also wrote to the Scottish Government earlier this summer in a bid to get more clarity on its position on fixed links.

“As the easiest and quickest way to travel between islands, there could be considerable economic and social advantages if people were able to drive, cycle or walk these routes, and businesses were able to avoid waits at harbours and operate 24 hours where necessary,” Halcro Johnston said.

“The opportunities for industries like tourism and aquaculture, and even emerging possibilities like the proposed spaceport on Unst, could be significant

“Infrastructure can be a key driver of the sort of economic growth in the islands that we all want to see.”

Halcro Johnston said more should be done to look into not only the “financial costs of replacing the existing infrastructure, but also at how the ongoing costs of maintenance and repair between different options compare long term”.

“This requires us ensuring that, when decisions are made, we have the right figures in front of us – and that an economic assessment that reflects the full benefits of fixed links is available,” he said.

Fixed links are a popular long-term solution for replacing the SIC’s costly ferry fleet, with both the Shetland and Orkney councils securing extra money from the Scottish Government this year to run their inter-island services.

A spokesman for Transport Scotland said that “work is ongoing to review the national transport strategy to establish the strategic direction for transport in Scotland over the next 20 years”.

“Part of that work will consider the important issue of connectivity for the country’s islands,” he said.

“The work will inform the second strategic transport projects review, which will identify the transport interventions required to provide Scotland with a transport network fit for the 21st Century.”