Transport / Cost of improving ferry linkspans rises by £1.75m

Councillors show frustration over lack of full ferry funding

If this ferry terminal was in the western isles rather than Toft it would have been paid for by the Scottish government.
The Toft ferry terminal.

THE COST of the planned refurbishment of linkspans at Shetland Islands Council’s ferry terminals has risen by £1.75 million, councillors were told on Monday.

Members of the policy and resources committee heard that following surveys the remedial work is “much more onerous than originally envisaged”.

The issue elicited frustration from councillors over the lack of full ‘fair funding’ for ferries from the Scottish Government, with a desire to see the linkspan maintenance cost covered by the government instead of the council.


A decision on approving the additional funding of £1.75 million will be made at a meeting of the full Shetland Islands Council on Wednesday.

The life extension project of the council’s 13 terminal linkspans – the pieces of machinery which act as a drawbridge to allow vehicles on and off ferries – was approved back in 2017, and it is the first such piece of work in around 20 years.

The linkspans will be removed in phases to covered workshops where they will be shotblasted and painted, with any structural steel work repairs incorporated into the process. Hydraulic control gear will also be replaced at each terminal.


The original business case had an estimated total cost at £2 million, but following full surveys, that figure has now increased to £3.75 million.

“The original estimate was for steel coatings only, but to meet the Provision & Use of Work Equipment Regulations, new controls, huts and hydraulic machinery are also required, along with high inflationary increases in this area since the original budget was specified,” assets, commissioning and procurement manager Robert Sinclair wrote in a report.


Councillors heard there is “little scope in this project to manage costs down” as the new estimated total is based from the lowest tender received for steelwork fabrication and painting.

In addition, the “condition of the existing linkspans and urgency of these repairs mean that works must go ahead as soon as possible”.

“Any further delays will mean that load restrictions will have to be placed on structural elements,” Sinclair wrote.

“These restrictions will have an impact on linkspans being able to accommodate normal HGV traffic which will affect island communities.”

Councillors were also told that the updated cost of the project has been included in the council’s recent submission on fair ferry funding to the Scottish Government.

In the meantime, however, it is proposed that the money is funded from income from the additional fees and charges predicted to be received into the harbour account, which covers charges taken in through ports and harbours.

If approved by councillors on Wednesday, the money would be used in phases from 2019/20 through to 2022/23.

The linkspans at Toft, Ulsta and Hamarsness are newer and will be among the last to be refurbished.

There was frustration in the council chamber on Monday over the Scottish Government so far not paying the council its full request for fair ferry funding in the last two years.


For 2019/20 the SIC requested £7.9 million but only received £5.2 million.

“They should be putting their hands in their pockets,” North Mainland member Alastair Cooper said of the government.

“We started in 2011/12 for fair funding and we are no further ahead.”

South mainland councillor George Smith, meanwhile, said the government had an “obligation that they are not fulfilling”

“I don’t know what more we can do,” he admitted. “It’s really, really difficult.”

Council leader Steven Coutts said “there is no room for discussion” anymore over whether the local authority receives its full funding ask.

North Isles member Ryan Thomson, who chairs the council’s environment and transport committee, said the local authority has “jumped through hoops” for the Scottish Government over ferry funding.

“Genuinely, what more can we do?” he said. “We are being used as a pawn in a political game.”

SNP councillor Robbie McGregor, however, said the council should stop calling the issue ‘fair ferry funding’ and instead dub it “full funding”.

He said discussions are still ongoing for 2020/21. “It’s far from a finished game,” the southend member said.

Thomson moved to recommend to the full SIC to spend the extra £1.75 million, citing the fact that the work needs done.

Speaking after the meeting, the councillor explained that infrastructure, as well as the cost of running the ferries, forms part of the fair funding ask.

“In terms of the investment in the linkspans, it’s something that is an essential piece of work that we need to do and set out immediately,” Thomson said.

“It’s not by any stretch a health and safety concern yet, but it’s part of maintenance that needs to be done before it becomes an issue. It’s obviously a lifeline service for our islands, from a social aspect people need to commute, we need to get folk on and off the islands.

“We can’t really hang around and wait for the full and fair ferry funding from the government.

“I think there’s a bit of frustration from the council because we’re having to investment our own money from our harbour account in a project that the Scottish Government is funding elsewhere and should be funding elsewhere.”