SHETLAND Islands Council is to press ahead with rebuilding and extending the Toft Pier at a cost of nearly £3 million after councillors gave the proposal their backing.
Around one third of the cost – £1 million – will be covered by grant money from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund.
This means the council will have to stump up £1.9 million in capital costs, although discussions are ongoing as to whether further funding – possibly £500,000 – can be secured from the Scottish Government.
A business case for replacing Toft Pier with a rebuilt and extended pier came up in front of the full council on Wednesday.
While it was approved, calls were made from some councillors for the local authority to consider its priorities when it comes to infrastructure developments and spending.
Work on the new Toft Pier could start this summer ahead of completion in late 2020, with planning permission granted last week.
The business case stated that a planned net service station adjacent to the pier, which is opposed by local residents due to its location, is dependent on the redevelopment.
Discussions on what to do with the Toft Pier have taken place in the council chambers for years, with the project managing to navigate through the various hurdles to become a full business case.
Presenting the business case, capital programmes manager Robert Sinclair admitted the council only had until Friday (19 April) before the offer of external funding may lapse.
Vehicle access to the pier – which is often used by shellfish boats – was closed off in 2014 before it was fully shut in 2016 as a result of its deteriorating condition, with a pontoon installed alongside the pier instead to allow berthing.
Usage of the pier by certain sectors, such as salmon and mussel farming, largely stopped after it was closed off in 2014.
The pier was built in the 1950s for the Yell ferry service and then rebuilt 20 years later. When a new ferry terminal at Toft was built in 2000, the ferry service stopped using the old pier.
Shetland Islands Council chief executive Maggie Sandison explained that the pier became a “redundant asset” when the ferry stopped using it, with no budget in place for maintaining it.
“The funding for the ferry pier went with the ferry services and it was never built back into the port maintenance programme,” she said.
Redeveloping the pier has been a long-held ambition of North Mainland councillor Alastair Cooper, and he told the meeting that fishermen currently go through “quite a process” to haul fish onto land from the pontoon.
He added that it was imperative that shoreside at a revamped pier should include services like fuel, power and CCTV.
Cooper stressed it was his belief that fishing boats would start returning to Toft if there was a new pier in place, and that new business such as tidal energy could use the services too.
“I’m confident that if we put the facility there folk will use it,” he said before moving to approve the business case.
Fellow north member Andrea Manson agreed, adding: “All the little shellfish boats canna wait to get this back again.”
North Isles councillor Alec Priest said there was a “real need” for the industry to go to Toft, while Lerwick member Stephen Leask highlighted the benefits of community use and tourism.
But some were more cagey on the potential benefits of redeveloping a pier which appeared to attract modest landings and therefore brought a small level of income to the council.
“I sincerely hope that members are right in their optimism,” south mainland councillor George Smith warned.
He claimed there were a lot of “ifs, coulds and mights” in the report in terms of future usage of a new pier.
Smith suggested that if a business case like the Toft Pier could get approved then the council should look at other infrastructure developments, such as new public toilets in the south end.
Westside member Theo Smith agreed with this stance and highlighted the road into Walls in particular.
“I totally agree with Councillor Smith in that I hope that officers are going to come forward with other pieces of infrastructure,” he said. “I think we need more than Toft Pier.”
Lerwick councillor Amanda Hawick meanwhile said at a time when council tax is rising – as well as music tuition charges for schoolchildren increasing – she hoped that optimism over Toft Pier will be proved right.
Council leader Steven Coutts said he was happy to support Cooper’s motion and added he was confident the pier would be useful to the industry.
“I think we all know we are a predominately marine based economy,” he said.
In terms of the wider picture, Coutts reiterated that the onus was on his fellow councillors to decide where to prioritise spending.
Cooper’s motion was passed after Manson seconded, with the North Mainland councillor finally getting his wish.