SNP candidate for the upcoming Shetland by-election Tom Wills says he is in favour of scrapping the car parking charge at Sumburgh Airport – despite the Scottish Government effectively owning the company which imposed the controversial £3 a day fee.
Wills said he will not would be forced into changing his tune if elected, and would make sure “local issues like this are taken to the highest levels of the Scottish Government”.
The majority of the ten by-election candidates said they were against the car parking charge, which was imposed last year as government-owned operator Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) sought to generate more income.
Only independent candidate Peter Tait stopped short of calling for it to be scrapped as he wanted to see more information about who owns the car park land.
The £3 a day charge was also put in place at Kirkwall and Stornoway, but many felt the location of Sumburgh – 25 miles from Lerwick at the southern tip of Shetland – meant the fee was unfair.
Then transport minister Humza Yousaf told Shetland News last year that a car parking charge was the “only option” to avoid cuts.
The issue was also debated in the Scottish Parliament where Yousaf, who described HIAL as operating its 11 airports on behalf of the Scottish Government, said the “measures that are being brought in are proportionate and will help to safeguard those air services”.
By-election candidate Wills, however, said he is “committed to getting rid of the parking charges at Sumburgh Airport”.
“There’s clearly work to be done in tackling the cost of travel in Shetland and voters here are ready for an MSP who can bring about that change,” he added.
“I can’t promise to get rid of these charges overnight, but if I’m elected I’ll make sure that local issues like this are taken to the highest levels of the Scottish Government.
“I’m asking voters to put their trust in me for 18 months to let me prove what I can achieve for Shetland. I will then stand on my record in 2021 and hope to continue serving this community.”
The Lib Dems’ Beatrice Wishart, meanwhile, said the charge should “never have been implemented without a proper and full impact assessment”.
“It’s completely unfair to impose additional charges on islanders using the airport to balance HIAL’s books,” she added.
“It’s an unacceptable tax on island living. Passengers are understandably frustrated at the price hike and there is no certainty the charge will stay at the current level.
“The transport secretary should be taking HIAL to task over the shoddy introduction of these charges and ensure islanders’ views are heard. This is yet another example of complacency on island issues by the SNP government.”
Independent candidate Ryan Thomson, who rallied against the charge as the chairman of Shetland Islands Council’s transport committee, said that HIAL has come under “continuous pressure due to a reduction in their budget from the Scottish Government, and that budget cut has been passed on to the Shetland public in the form of this island tax”.
“These car parking charges should never have come into force without a public consultation and full island impact assessment,” he added.
“These charges are unfair on an island community, when travel is already prohibitively expensive. We need an independent MSP who will work with the government constructively to address problems such as these.”
Labour’s Johan Adamson highlighted that the parking at Sumburgh has become “ridiculous” with folk going to “great lengths” to park away from the terminal.
“It is time HIAL saw sense and stopped adding to our disadvantage being an island community,” she added.
“HIAL are facing budget cuts made by the Scottish Government, so they are charging us, passing on Tory austerity to our already fragile and expensive transport infrastructure.”
Conservative candidate Brydon Goodlad, meanwhile, said: “I think many people will see this as yet another tax on motorists.
“Sometimes there is very little option but to drive, particularly if you live in a rural area and are catching an early flight. This charge will simply mean extra costs for families at a time when transport is already expensive.”
Debra Nicolson, who is representing the Scottish Greens, said it is “increasingly clear that the people sat round the boardroom table in Inverness don’t understand the implications of their decisions, and this is perhaps why the transport secretary refused to say he had confidence in HIAL’s management when asked by my colleague John Finnie MSP last year”.
“Ultimately, we need to improve the public transport links to the airport, so people have a realistic alternative to taking the car, introducing these charges before even attempting this is entirely unfair on islanders,” she added.
UKIP’s Stuart Martin said: “I am opposed to car parking charges at Sumburgh Airport I am and will continue to campaign for free parking for all islanders and on lower cost air travel for residents of Shetland.
“Free parking will also help tourism to the area.”
Michael Stout, who is standing as an independent candidate, said the charge was “another great example of an externally imposed ‘tax’ on Shetlanders without any meaningful consideration of its impact”.
“Considering HIAL is a wholly owned corporation of the Scottish government, the ‘islands proofing’ of policies implemented by public bodies demanded by the Islands Act, seems to have been skimmed over,” he added.
Anti-austerity independent candidate Ian Scott said the problem facing HIAL is one that faces all public sector bodies – “a complete lack of government funding”.
“This lack is the direct result of the quite shameful, year on year, austerity budgets handed down by the Tory/Lib Dem alliance – an alliance that will be next revived when the Tory trumpet blows again,” he added.
“With the SNP government unwilling to fight austerity – it’s getting quite cosy in Holyrood, thank you – we are I’m afraid destined to suffer the charges. The only answer is to elect an MSP that isn’t afraid.”
Independent candidate Peter Tait, meanwhile, commented: “I was always under the impression that the car park was built by the council back in the 70s. Perhaps it was built on HIAL land. I don’t know where the public road ends and the car park begins if there are different landowners.
“If the car park was built on council land then there should not be a charge. If the car park was built by the council on HIAL land then what was the arrangement? Without that basic knowledge I don’t think I can comment.”
HIAL said it was unable to comment as it is the pre-election period.