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Transport / Pandemic and climate change encourages refresh of transport strategy

The Whalsay ferry Hendra at the Vidlin terminal. Photo: Shetland News

A TRANSPORT strategy currently in place for Shetland is set to undergo a “full and comprehensive review” to reflect issues such as the coronavirus pandemic and climate change.

The strategy, which guides local transport partnership ZetTrans, has been described as “inadequate for its purpose”.

It was only last refreshed in 2018 but transport policy and projects officer Robina Barton told a meeting of ZetTrans on Thursday morning that recent developments had left it out of date.

“We have been aware for the last 12 months of gathering momentum for the need for a through review of the strategy,” she said.

A greater emphasis has been placed on active travel during the pandemic as car usage dropped during lockdown, while home working for office staff is set to continue for the foreseeable future.

Shetland Islands Council, the primary funder of ZetTrans, also launched a programme on climate change earlier this year following calls to declare a climate emergency.

The council ultimately said it recognised the global climate emergency and needed to “demonstrate the community leadership”.

Also in the mix, Barton said, was the Scottish Government’s new National Transport Strategy, which was published in February.

It sets out an “ambitious and compelling vision for our transport system for the next 20 years, one that protects our climate and improves our lives”.

Barton added that the refreshed strategy needs to take account of, and supports, new developments within other policy areas including planning, housing, education and health and social care.

She said the review will be undertaken with “high levels of engagement with Shetland stakeholders and the public”.

In a report to ZetTrans members she wrote: “Whilst the timescale involved in ‘recovery and renewal’ remain unavoidably fluid, it is felt that a 12-18 month policy window exists to capitalise on positive changes in travel behaviour that have resulted from the lockdown, and provide transport solutions that tackle inequalities, support economic recovery and contribute to carbon reduction.”

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At Thursday’s meeting North Isles councillor Alec Priest questioned whether businesses would be engaged in the refresh.

He said a number of isles businesses, particularly in Yell, had been struggling with a reduced ferry timetable in recent times.

“Going forward I think we need to have a bigger input from the private sector,” Priest said.

Barton said that it is “absolutely essential” to engage a wide range of stakeholders in the review, including businesses.

She added that Covid-19 has flagged up some of the constraints island communities face when it comes to transport, such as being able to “conjure up additional staff or ferries”.

“I think that’s something we need to ensure governments are hearing at a national level,” Barton said.

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