The case for fixed links

Whalsay ferry Linga could be disrupted this weekendThe Whalsay ferry Linga.

For more than a decade members of the Whalsay community have been promoting a way for the SIC to cut the Shetland Islands Council’s production of carbon and save millions of pounds of public finance in the process.

The 2015-2020 SIC carbon management plan shows that the inter island ferries account for 47 per cent of SIC energy consumption. ( (page 12).

The SIC have been presented with evidence showing that a fixed link to Whalsay and another to Yell would make a substantial reduction to the SIC carbon footprint as 64 per cent of the total energy consumption in the ferry fleet is accounted for on the Whalsay and Yell routes.

Replacing the Whalsay and Yell Sound ferries based on their 2015/16 fuel consumption would represent a total reduction in SIC energy consumption of about 30 per cent. (The Case for a Fixed Link)

Three offers to build a Whalsay tunnel “including funding” have been presented to the SIC within the last decade; the most recent was for a quoted cost of £76 million presented in 2017.

All were dismissed by the SIC and none of those offers were included in the latest transport consultation the, SIITS report, presented to the council in 2016/17. The report can be found on the SIC webpage underDevelopment services/ transport planning.

Alarmingly for Whalsay, it shows a routes and services methodology finding of a model service which appears to show a reduction of service from 17-18 runs a day to eight connections per day all week; this is shown in this document to be acceptable. (

The present weekend service found to be unacceptable by the Whalsay community is 11 runs a day.

It is also stated that”

“A fixed link is rejected in the appraisal for the following reasons: The cost of a fixed link to Whalsay significantly exceeds the costs associated with ongoing ferry services, even when considered over two ferry replacement cycles.”

To have reached this conclusion I assumed they must have made a comparison between running ferries for two ferry cycles i.e. 60 years and running a tunnel for the same period of time, so I requested the comparison from the SIC by freedom of information.

The answer I received stated they had no comparison of figures to show but all of the information I had requested was in the SIITS report.

The following is a breakdown and calculation of figures over two ferry replacement cycles, i.e. 60 years; using figures shown in the SIITS report.

As the last major development of an Inter Island ferry service was in Yell Sound I have used those service costs for a comparison to the tunnel running costs mentioned in SIITS.

The cost of running the Yell ferries in the year 2015/16 was £5,807,093. (page 7)

A replacement Yell ferry was priced at £10.7 million and terminal replacement costs were priced at £4.5 million. (Page 24)

Two ferry replacement cycles at £10.7 million per ferry = four ferries £ 42.8 million. Terminal replacement at £4.5 million x 2 = £ 9.0 million.

Sixty years x the £5,807,093 cost of running ferries = £348,425,580

Total 60-year cost of running ferries at 2015/16 prices: £400,225,580 (Page13) £226,200 per year for 1.2 km tunnel = £848,250 for 4.5 km tunnel.

A tunnel running cost of £188,500 per kilometre was mentioned in the SIITS report for a tunnel to Bressay, so for a 4.5 kilometre Yell Sound tunnel the figure would be £848,250.

Sixty years x the annual tunnel running cost of £848,250 = £ 50.895 million.

Sixty years cost of running ferries over the cost of running a tunnel £349,330,580.

The projection of these 2015/16 ferry service figures in comparison to the SIITS tunnel running costs appears to show that before the SIITS statement could be valid; the construction of the new ferry service would need to have been £349 million cheaper to build than the construction cost of a tunnel.

Archived reports about the Yell Sound ferry service show that the SIC had an offer to build a tunnel in 2002/04 at a cost of £26.9 million to a worst-case scenario price of £32.5 million but following council officials advice, they built a ferry service as the councillors were apparently persuaded that the ferry option was the cheapest.

Between 2002 and 2006 SIC documents show that over £37 million was spent on building and running the Yell Sound ferry service.

That transport link will have cost the public purse well in excess of £100 million from 2002 to the present day, SIC figures show they could have built and run a tunnel in Yell Sound over the same period of time for less than half of that amount.

The transport option apparently favoured for Whalsay in the SIITS report appears to be the construction of a new ferry, three new terminals which will require extensive additional road-works and a whole new harbour in the North Voe of Whalsay.

William Polson