MUCH NEEDED coach parking facilities as well as toilets for visitors to the historic site at Jarlshof in Shetland’s south mainland are unlikely to be built any time soon after the Scottish Government rejected a business case for the project.
With Shetland experiencing an unprecedented boom in the cruise liner business, as many as ten coaches can be visiting the famous site at the same time on busy days.
The congestion is regularly not only overwhelming the historic sit, but also the nearby Sumburgh Hotel which owns the car park facilities currently used by tour operators.
Thanks to an agreement with the hotel owners, visitors from cruise liners can use the hotel’s toilets but that situation has increasingly become untenable due to the sheer numbers of users preventing the hotel from functioning properly on days a large cruise ship is in Lerwick Harbour.
A compromise that allows no more than four coaches into the hotel car park at any one time has been reached for this summer, but all parties acknowledge that this can not be a long-term solution.
Plans to build a large car park and toilet facilities on a nearby field have so far not progressed.
In the Scottish Parliament on Thursday local MSP Tavish Scott sought answers from the government as to what progress has been made.
But all junior minister Ben Macpherson was able to provide in response was to say that all parties were recognising the importance of the issue, and that talks were ongoing but legal issues meant details could not be provided.
A business case for the project had been rejected by cabinet secretary Fiona Hyslop last December, a move Scott described as “very disappointing”.
Scott said: “The government’s delay in finding a solution is not good enough. The tourism industry and local businesses have raised problems regarding lack of visitor facilities for years.
“Another tourist season cannot be allowed to pass without any progress. This would not have dragged as it has were we talking about a location in the central belt.
“Jarlshof is a world class site and it is embarrassing that the government isn’t doing more to develop the most basic of amenities.”
In a letter to the cabinet secretary, Scott continued: “You will know that my office submitted an FOI request regarding the communication between the Scottish Government and Historic Environment Scotland on the matter.
“From the information received I cannot help but assume that the decision making process would have been entirely different had the site been located in the central belt.
“It is unacceptable that a private business continues to voluntarily provide parking and toilet services for visitors at a site of such national importance.
“Being told, as I was today, that there is a legal issue after three years of absolutely nothing happening, does not fill me with any confidence that the government are committed to getting this matter resolved.”
Last year Jarlshof recorded a record year with 23,000 people visiting the site.