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Transport / Questions raised over lack of fixed links in islands plan

Highlands and Islands list MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston. Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland NewsHighlands and Islands list MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston. Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland News

A HIGHLANDS and Islands MSP has questioned why fixed links have not been included in the Scottish Government’s proposed national islands plan.

Jamie Halcro Johnston said the case for bridges and tunnels has been “strongly advocated in a number of our island communities”.

In response, islands minster Paul Wheelhouse reiterated that fixed links were up for consideration as part of the Scottish Government’s ongoing work on a national transport strategy.

The proposed islands plan features a range of commitments which aim to improve the outcomes of island communities across Scotland, including Shetland.

Halcro Johnston told parliament earlier this week: “The single issue raised most by participants in the [National Islands Plan] consultation’s discussion events was transport.

“It recognises the considerable cost of travel within, to and from the islands, the effect on affordability and the wider impact on the islands’ economies.

“But while parts of the proposed plan relate to ferries, there is no discussion whatsoever of new and existing fixed links between islands”.

Wheelhouse said the Conservative MSP had made a “reasonable point” but added that the “issue is not being ignored”.

“We will make sure that we reflect on the point that Mr Halcro Johnston has raised, and if islanders have raised consideration of fixed links as a priority for them, we will certainly reflect that in future drafts of the plan,” he said.

In the same debate on the proposed national islands plan, Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart pressed on the government to provide full fair funding for Shetland Islands Council’s internal ferries.

In 2019/20 the council received £5.2 million for running its services after asking for £7.9 million.

Wheelhouse said that the government would continue to work constructively with Shetland and Orkney Islands council on funding issues.

Speaking afterwards, Wishart said: “This plan is not the first time that islanders have been promised that government is listening and that it recognises the transport challenges we face.

“The government now needs to step up and ensure that the work done by Shetland Islands Council and others for full and fair ferry funding doesn’t end in frustration yet again.

“The aspirations behind the historic Islands Act must translate into real change.”