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Politics / MSP keen to see retrospective islands assessment on airport parking charge

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart. Photo: Shetland News

SHETLAND MSP Beatrice Wishart has backed the idea of a retrospective islands impact assessment being carried out on the Sumburgh Airport car parking charges.

She maintains that the £3-a-day charge was “badly delivered and should be scrapped”.

The charge, ushered in by operator Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) in 2018, came under fire partly for its lack of consultation or impact assessment before it was announced.

Section 14, however, of the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018 highlights that local authorities may request to Scottish ministers that a retrospective island communities impact assessment be carried out “in relation to existing legislation or national strategies which have an effect on an island community which is significantly different from their effect on other communities in Scotland”.

Scottish ministers then may accept or reject the request.

HIAL is owned by Scottish ministers and is funded by the Scottish Government, and it also imposed parking charges in Kirkwall and Stornoway around the same time.

Islands minister Paul Wheelhouse recently confirmed that “ideally” section 14 regulations will come into force prior to the summer parliament recess.

Wishart said it was “frustrating” to see the regulations over retrospective impact assessments to come into force.

The Liberal Democrat added, however, that she maintains her call for a “proper impact assessment” to be carried out on the parking charges.

The charge had previously been called something of an “island tax” for getting to the mainland, while the bus links – especially to outlying areas – were also criticised.

“Retrospective island community impact assessments are one of the most important features of the Islands Act, something that was secured by my colleague Liam McArthur,” Wishart said.

“It is frustrating however that it is taking so long for the regulations to come into force.

“Requests for an island community impact assessment must come from local authorities. I will be adding my support for calls for proper impact assessment to be carried out into parking charges at Sumburgh Airport when the powers are available.

“HIAL carried out no proper assessment of the impact, which seems to be a habit of theirs. The policy was badly thought through, given that there is little alternative to drive to Sumburgh, and badly delivered and should be scrapped.”

In response, a spokesperson for HIAL said the car parking charges were introduced as a “means of ensuring we have adequate income to provide facilities and amenities for the benefit of passengers and the islands communities”.

“As part of an ongoing review of all operations and facilities at the airport we are currently examining future requirements for car parking,” they said.

This is thought to include the potential for increasing the area in which drivers are charged for parking.

The spokesperson added: “HIAL is committed to developing a viable transport infrastructure that works for those who use the airport.

“We will continue to work with community and local authorities to find a solution that contributes towards delivering a long-term, sustainable air service for Shetland.”

People living on Shetland’s outer isles, blue badge holders or passengers flying on an NHS trip are exempt from paying the Sumburgh Airport parking fee.

Parking for up to two hours is free, while there is also a dedicated drop-off/pick-up area.

The number of bus connections to and from Sumburgh Airport, meanwhile, are set to be nearly doubled when new bus contracts come into force in August.