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Transport / Time to bump fixed links up the political agenda, councillors urge

An aerial view of Whalsay. Photo: Ivan Reid

THE TIME is nigh for councillors to push the Scottish Government again on fixed links for Shetland, a meeting heard on Tuesday.

Chairman of Shetland Islands Council’s environment and transport committee Ryan Thomson said it is “important that politically this is bumped up the agenda”.

It comes after fixed links – tunnels and bridges – were not included in a strategic transport projects review which the Scottish Government published in February.

There had been hopes that they would be included in the review, as the council – which supports the idea of fixed links generally – does not have the financial clout to build any itself.

Bressay, Whalsay, Yell and Unst have all been pinpointed as islands that could realistically have fixed links.

Speaking at the environment and transport committee Thomson said he is now keen to write to islands minister Paul Wheelhouse on the matter.

“It’s vexing but we have seen yet another strategy come and go without the inclusion of fixed links,” he said.

Thomson referred to the recent positive outcome of talks with the government on fair ferry funding that collaboration with ministers is the best way forward.

Despite the council having its ferry running costs covered in 2021/22, no commitment is place for replacing its ageing fleet, which are not only expensive to maintain but also key contributors to Shetland’s carbon footprint.

Thomson said fixed links was the obvious solution.

“We are at a critical stage now,” he said.

North Isles councillor Alec Priest, who is from Yell, said he agreed with this stance.

He said if the arguments for fixed links were put through a “logic machine” a tunnel would already probably be in Shetland.

Priest suggested one tactic could be to impress on the government the human factor and social benefits fixed links could bring.

He said the Scottish Government could end up “sleepwalking” into having generations of islanders “living by a timetable”.

“We want an unrestricted transport model that fixed links can provide.”

Thomson raised the recent ferry breakdown which saw Bressay go for much of the day without a transport link to Lerwick, with a port authority tug tasked to take foot passengers in the late afternoon.

Lerwick North member Stephen Leask, whose ward includes Bressay, said councillors themselves need to engage in a “constructive manner” with the government.

But he said fixed links could provide an opportunity for the council to “invest in our communities”.

“We can see the inequalities [in Bressay], because they don’t have a school,” Leask said.

“They don’t have a nursery…and yet they have to travel back and forth, back and forth, and pay significant amounts of money.”