ORKNEY and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael has welcomed a £2 million investment in NorthLink’s ferries by the Scottish Government but has questioned whether there has been enough local consultation.
The government today (Thursday) announced a revamp of parts of the Hjaltland and Hrossey plus nine new port tractors to improve shore side operations and reduce maintenance costs.
Each of the passenger vessels that provide the lifeline service from the Northern Isles to Aberdeen will have 66 new sleeping pods along with new cinemas, shops, games areas and entertainment zones for younger travellers.
Additional fin stabilisers will be purchased for both vessels – aimed at “reducing the risk of disruption and providing improved resilience to services”.
Carmichael said: “While the willingness to invest and keep improving the boats is welcome, the absence of sufficient sleeping accommodation is and has been a real problem and if it addresses that, it should be good.
“But ultimately, instead of designing the service in Edinburgh, the design should be managed in Lerwick and local people must be allowed their say.”
Carmichael questioned the extent of the input of local transport partnership ZetTrans, which has been consulted in the process leading up to the award of the next ferry contract, which is due to begin next summer.
It is not clear from the government announcement what will be sacrificed on the NorthLink ferries to make way for the extra pods and entertainment areas.
Minister for energy, connectivity and the islands Paul Wheelhouse said: “The Scottish Government fully recognises the importance of these ferry links to the residents and businesses of the Northern Isles and wants to ensure they continue to support the economies of Orkney and Shetland, as well as Scotland as a whole.
“We have spoken with key stakeholders to identify measures that will help achieve that aim. These improvements will upgrade the passenger experience and freight operations, while also bringing added resilience to the services.
“This investment underlines our commitment to providing the best possible ferry services on the Northern Isles network and our continued support for the island communities that rely on them.”
Serco’s managing director of NorthLink Ferries Stuart Garrett said: “We welcome this investment from the Scottish Government which will add to the existing quality lifeline service that links the Scottish mainland to the Northern Isles.
“The investment will build on the series of on board improvements that Serco has introduced since we began operating the service in 2012, which have led to 98 per cent of customers surveyed rating their overall experience as positive.”