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Letters / Response to Whalsay fixed links paper

The addition of the draft fixed link summary paper (‘Not feasible’ for SIC to fund or deliver tunnel to Whalsay, new study reiterates; SN,15/3/19) is a good addition to the SIITS [Shetland Inter Island Transport Study, published in December 2016] documents.

It makes a good explanation of how the ferry service figures are discounted before optimism bias for ferries infrastructure is applied making an increase of 44 per cent, being compared against discounted tunnel figures with optimism bias applied making an increase of 66 per cent plus another increase of 20 per cent for contingency on the tunnel figures. 

“Optimism bias is not applied to new vessels.”

As the officials will not release their calculation to us, it is not clear what level of ferry service is being compared. The ferry service proposed and apparently approved for the Whalsay route in the SIITS documents is a cut from 18 runs to 8 runs a day. This we assume would be a single ferry operation.

The draft fixed link document does not, however, appear to dispute that the costs I sourced from the SIITS documents for ferry services and tunnels projected for 60 years; shows that it would cost over a half a billion pounds more, to run the ferry services to Whalsay and Yell than it would cost to run the tunnels.

In the conclusions it states: “It is not feasible that SIC/ZetTrans could fund a project of this scale in the foreseeable future, nor do they have the technical and procurement expertise to ‘buy’ and deliver the project.”

In 2010 the council proposed to employ a dedicated tunnel officer but council officials claimed they could take on that role in-house and save the extra cost, now nine years on we are told they have no-one in-house with the qualifications to carry out the duties required.

The conclusions in the report also state that: “The cost of a fixed link would significantly exceed the costs associated with on going ferry services, even when considered over two ferry replacement cycles (outwith the £76 million GeoConsult preliminary offer, which is significantly out-of-step with ballpark prices provided by other contractors with a proven track record in tunnelling).”

This appears to concede that if they were to accept the Norwegian GeoConsult (with an extensive proven track record in tunnelling including subsea) quote for building the fixed link, the cost of a fixed link to Whalsay would be cheaper than the ferries options over a period of 60 years.

The result of any study or calculation depends on the data that is used. It was for that reason; as I was not confident of the integrity of some of the data included in the SIITS report which was presented by the same company in 2016, that I proposed on 4 Dec 2018, that the Whalsay Community Council request that the outline business case be fully audited before it was presented to the councillors. Information on the progress of the requested audit can be obtained from the SIC.

William Polson
North Park
Whalsay