Whalsay ferry petition handed over to SIC

SIC head of infrastructure John Smith receiving the petition with councillor Duncan Simpson on his right. Photo: Ivan Reid

A PETITION calling for a second vessel to be reinstated on Whalsay’s weekend ferry service has been handed over to Shetland Islands Council.

Around 500 people signed the petition – roughly half of the island’s population – in protest of the council’s decision to remove the Hendra on Saturdays and Sundays back in 2013 as purse strings tightened.

The petition was handed over to head of infrastructure John Smith, transport manager Michael Craigie and local councillor Duncan Simpson at Symbister pier on Thursday evening.

It stated that the “unreliability” of the single-vessel weekend service has caused “severe disruption” for both the local community and visitors, particularly in recent months.

Concerns have also been raised about capacity on the service.

Figures show Whalsay’s population has increased slightly over the last seven years, which locals say further highlights the need for more sufficient transport links.

Alison Shearer, who was involved in setting up the petition, said she was “absolutely delighted” by the response from the community.

“The restricted weekend ferry affects everybody, and several groups and individuals have emailed us with their frustrations,” she added.

“This ranges from unsatisfactory arrangements having to be put in place to get to work or other commitments on time, to cancelling participation in sports events due to an inability to get a booking on the ferries, or the times not fitting in well.”

Shearer said the community is “cautiously optimistic” that the petition might force positive change when budgets are set for next year.

“People have been trying to work around the lack of ferries, by putting vehicles out the night before they want to travel, or organising minibuses to get to events, but despite this the frustration levels are getting higher and higher right now,” she added.

“We are confident that with over 500 signatures, the SIC will need to look at this and make the necessary changes that’s needed.”

Simpson, who hails from the island, said the “three North Isles Councillors will be fighting Whalsay’s corner” during future budget meetings.

He believes that even if the Hendra is not reinstated, then the public show of support strengthens the case for “avoiding further cuts”.

The councillor said it comes against a “backdrop of finding a longer term solution for Whalsay’s transport link, as the capacity is an issue all through the week not just the weekend, not to mention the ageing fleet and terminals”.

“However if we can do something in the short term to improve the service until that solution comes then it should be considered,” Simpson said.

Infrastructure chief Smith said the matter is set to be put in front of councillors at a future meeting of the council’s environment and transport committee.

Chairman of that committee Ryan Thomson said progress is being made on a business case for the Whalsay route as part of a wider review of inter-island travel.

“As it stands the position is clear in that the Whalsay service falls short on frequency, particularly at the weekend in accordance with the government’s routes and services methodology,” he said.

“Whalsay needs an adequate ferry service, the residents are right in highlighting the issues at the weekend.

“There is work ongoing at present on the outline business case for the Whalsay route. We are in a position where consultants will be appointed in the next couple of weeks and the work the SIC will do will follow on from that.”