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Community / Council approves plan for islands

Papa Stour. Photo: Shetland News

A PLAN which identifies priorities for the future of outlying islands such as Fair Isle, Foula and Papa Stour has been approved by Shetland Islands Council.

The Shetland’s Islands with Small Populations Locality Plan has been described as a “significant milestone for strategic planning in Shetland”.

The plan was approved by elected members at a meeting of the full council on Wednesday.

A place plan for Scalloway was also formally adopted by the council at the meeting.

The plan covering Fair Isle, Fetlar, Foula, Papa Stour and Skerries stemmed from the The Islands with Small Populations Project, which was formed amid concern over declining population numbers.

It culminated in an event in Lerwick last year which brought together folk from the outlying islands to allow representatives of the communities to “share experiences, discuss priorities and look for shared priorities”.

The development of the plan has been led by the Shetland Partnership, which is comprised of public agencies and community bodies.

Council chief executive Maggie Sandison said the partnership had already approved the plan in August.

The plan says around 200 people live in Fair Isle, Fetlar, Foula, Papa Stour and Skerries, with the cost of living on the islands between 29 per cent and 64 per cent higher than the UK average.

The populations are also falling and being at a faster rate than the rest of Shetland.

There are a number of collective aims in the plan, covering topics like communication, service delivery, redesigning of services and increasing the working age of population.

Each island community also has their own individual plans.

Fair Isle, which has a population of around 55, sees the rebuild of the bird observatory, housing improvements, a replacement ferry and a tourism development plan among its priorities.

Fetlar, which is home to around 60 full-time residents, has a number of priorities, including attracting new residents, ferry succession planning and tourism.

The plan says Foula is home to 36 full-time residents. Among its priorities is connectivity and 4G, a decarbonisation plan, maintaining community resilience to Covid-19 and maximising employment opportunities by using local people.

Papa Stour only has six full-time residents, with over half aged 65-plus.

Priorities include the reinstatement of the return ferry on Mondays, improved connectivity, the repair and refurbishment of the kirk and supporting new people in moving to the isle.

Some of the aims of Skerries, which has 36 full-time residents, include connectivity, the ongoing repair of the ferry terminal linkspan, developing tourism and exploring the feasibility for the ferry being based in Skerries.

As it has done in other council meetings in the past week, the issue of the proposed replacement Fair Isle ferry was raised, this time by south mainland member Allison Duncan.

Council leader Steven Coutts said the ball was in the Scottish Government’s court to provide funding for the project.

Development committee chairman Alastair Cooper stressed the importance of connectivity – and in particular infrastructure which can be scaled up over time.

He said while 4G would be an improvement in some communities it may not future-proof connectivity.

During debate, Coutts said islanders had a “very pragmatic” approach to discussions on the plan.

“They have adopted a can-do attitude in the islands,” he said.

Theo Smith said the pier at Walls was an example of how important council infrastructure could be to the seafood industry's ability to thrive.
Westside councillor Theo Smith: Transport and connectivity should both be regarded as basic rights.

Coutts warned, however, that the aspirations in the plan come at a cost.

Shetland West member Theo Smith expressed concerns about how the objectives could be funded.

“It’s very, very easy to speak about partnerships,” he said.

“It seems very, very difficult some times to make them work.”

Smith added: “Transport and connectivity are two large items which we are still wrestling with.” Both, he said, could be “regarded as basic rights”.

Lerwick councillor Stephen Leask added that healthcare was an important factor in island life.

The gauntlet was laid down, however, to the Scottish Government to stump up the funding for a new Fair Isle ferry.

“In order for [the plan] to be successful it requires all partners to play their part,” south mainland George Smith warned.