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SIC - Free Tyre Check - 22 Nov 2019

Transport / Councillors approve extra funding for linkspan refurbishment

The Whalsay ferry Hendra making her first run to Vidlin on Wednesday morning - Photo: Hans J Marter/ShetNewsThe Whalsay ferry Hendra. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

COUNCILLORS have approved spending an extra £1.75 million on refurbishing linkspans at all of Shetland’s inter-island ferry terminals.

Members of the full council gave the green light to the expenditure on Wednesday in addition to the already budgeted £2 million to enable the £3.75 million refurbishment to proceed.

The matter provoked frustration at the policy and resources committee on Monday from councillors who believed the cost should be covered by the Scottish Government’s ‘fair’ ferry funding.

At the full council on Wednesday, however, the questioning was more focused on why the local authority was left in a position where the cost had risen by £1.75 million.

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 increase was blamed on having to install new controls, huts and hydraulic machinery to meet regulations, while there have also been “high inflationary increases” since the original budget was specified.

The work is expected to take place in phases through to 2022/23.

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.

At Wednesday’s meeting of the full council, Westside member Catherine Hughson questioned why councillors were being asked to approve funding for a business case which was two years old.

“Should we not be revisiting the business case in the first instance?” she asked.

“It should not be considered a new project,” assets, commissioning and procurement manager Robert Sinclair said. “It is essential repairs.”

Shetland Central councillor Davie Sandison, meanwhile, said he hoped full community and business consultations would be carried out on the programme of repairs to minimise disruption.

Council chief executive Maggie Sandison explained that the local authority had a spare linkspan which would be used during the process.

North Isles’ Alec Priest also questioned why the council is planning on accepting the lowest tender for steelwork fabrication and painting.

“Is it the long term cheapest option?” he asked, referring to Shetland’s harsh climate.

Priest also said he witnessed the Toft linkspan collapsing nearly ten years ago. “It’s something that has to be done right,” he said.

Maggie Sandison said that every tender the council carries out balances quality and cost.

“Cheapness of the tender is not a priority,” she said.

Amanda Hawick also questioned why the total cost had risen so much over the last two years.

“It’s quite a significant figure,” the Lerwick South councillor said, adding that the council was trying to live within its means.

Maggie Sandison explained that the initial survey only included a certain amount of linkspans, with total work required only revealing itself after a full inspection.

“The original business case was based on a small portion [of linkspans].”

Hawick replied: “Will lessons be learned in the future…that full assessments will be done?”

Council leader Steven Coutts, meanwhile, said the business case for the project had remained the same since the beginning.

“We have to be responsible,” he said, moving the recommendation to approve the extra spending.

“We must maintain the links to our island communities.”

Referring to fair ferry funding, Coutts said: “There needs to be fairness and equity for the communities on the islands of Shetland.”