SHETLAND MSP Tavish Scott has said the council should look at ways to finance fixed links, as the Scottish Government is unlikely to pay for tunnels.
In the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday Scott asked finance minister Kate Forbes whether there were restrictions on local authorities using “bond finance” to pay for projects, including inter island tunnels, which could work out cheaper than ferries in the long run.
Forbes said it was up to local authorities to decide how they want to borrow as long as it is affordable and sustainable. She said that bond finance had “great potential”, highlighting its use to build the £400m conference centre in Aberdeen and that this should be explored further.
Scott said that central government should fund the capital costs of bridges or tunnels to link Shetland’s larger islands to Shetland mainland, but that was not going to “happen anytime soon”.
He added: “I believe that we should explore all possible ways to move forwards on fixed links.
“That has to be the future for Shetland’s outer island populations and economies. Unst and Yell both need better connections not least to support seafood industry exports. People and product need better links.
“The sooner a new way forward for funding with fixed links is worked out, the better for the long term sustainability of the islands economy. Waiting for monies for ferries from government is not proving a successful strategy as the government has not responded to the facts and figures supplied by the SIC.”
On Tuesday, SIC transport committee chairman Ryan Thomson said he was “bitterly disappointed” Scottish Government pledges on “fair ferry funding” had fallen through when the government’s ferry settlement of £5.2m fell short of what was needed by £2.7m.
Transport and islands minister Paul Wheelhouse said earlier this week that the Scottish Government was committed to fair funding of ferries and that the government would also be looking at the possibility of directly running the inter island service.
Scott, who visited Faroe recently, said that Shetland should copy its northern neighbour by building a tunnel network.
The Shetland Charitable Trust, which has a fund similar in size the council’s usable reserves, could also pay for such a project, according to Scott.
Faroe’s tunnel network was paid for in part by the Danish government and in part by other financial measures.
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