Community / Bid to host 2023 Tall Ships given go-ahead

The Polish ship Dar Mlodziezy at the 2011 Tall Ships in Shetland. Photo: Billy Fox

COUNCILLORS have backed plans for Shetland Islands Council (SIC) to support a bid to host the Tall Ships Races in 2023.

The decision was made at a meeting of the full council on Wednesday morning.

Councillors also agreed to explore the idea of developing small scale events and festivals.

Last year councillors backed plans for the isles to bid for large events in the future, like the Tall Ships and the Island Games, in the hope of providing a boost to locals as well as bringing in more visitors.

A business justification case on the SIC supporting a bid for the 2023 Tall Ships Races was presented to councillors this week – but vying for the event was not highlighted as the preferred option when all factors were taken into account.

Based on “scoring against economic impact, benefits and risks”, the council dropping the Tall Ships Races 2023 interest and instead supporting and/or sponsoring the development of small scale events and festivals was picked as the preferred option.


This, however, was said to be the lowest risk option – with bidding for the Tall Ships the highest ranked option when it came to economic benefit.

At Monday’s meeting of the policy and resources committee, south mainland member George Smith won approval to change the two options from an ‘either or’ situation to one where the SIC would move forward with both the Tall Ships bid and exploring the concept of smaller scale events.

At Wednesday’s full council meeting, Shetland’s cohort of councillors also backed this move – with the SIC now set to support a bid for the 2023 games.

The first tall ships race was held in 1956, and it has grown over the years to become an annual event held across the world which attracts a large number of participants and spectators.

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Shetland hosted the Tall Ships Races in 1999 and 2011, and in the chamber last year it was noted that the economic impact was secondary to the boost to the community.

The cost of hosting the Tall Ships Races in 2023 is estimated at £2.5 million, and supporting the event would require a financial commitment from the SIC of up to £1.39 million, if the bid was successful.

The rest of the funding is projected to come from corporate sponsorship, in-kind contributions from the likes of Lerwick Port Authority and ticket sales.

A report from business development team leader Thomas Coutts suggested that the financial impact could be mitigated by drawing on money received by the council through disbursement of net revenue from Crown Estate assets.

In September Shetland Islands Council was allocated just over £1 million from the net revenue generated by these assets in 2017/8.


There was little debate from councillors on Wednesday, with SIC leader Steven Coutts moving Smith’s suggestion to support a bid as well as explore the prospect of small scale events.

At Monday’s meeting of the policy and resources committee, north mainland member Alastair Cooper questioned what the potential small scale events could be.

Coutts said some possible options could be around interests like walking, sports and other niche areas, while existing events could receive more support.

South mainland member Robbie McGregor made a plea for the council to support the Tall Ships event.

He said after travelling fairly extensively over the last number of months, the Tall Ships Races had often cropped up in conversation with people abroad.

With the Shetland TV series and also Lerwick recently coming second in a poll of Scotland’s most beautiful high street, McGregor said the Tall Ships would further put Shetland on the map.


Fellow south end councillor George Smith said at Monday’s meeting that the liked the idea of Shetland hosting the Tall Ships again – but he was not so keen on the idea of the SIC being the main financial backer.

However, he said the wider benefits of hosting the event outweighed any negatives.

Smith also said the council should not lose focus on also bidding to host the Island Games in the future.

“I was kind of hoping the NatWest Island Games would be mentioned,” he said.

“I don’t want that to disappear off the radar.”

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