SHETLAND Islands Council is to call for the suspension of plans to centralise air traffic control services at Sumburgh and other airports in the Highlands and Islands to allow further consideration of a recent islands impact assessment.
It comes after a motion proposed by Shetland South member George Smith was unanimously backed in the council chamber today (Wednesday).
The motion, presented to a meeting of the full council, said that the controversial project should be paused to give “proper consideration” to a recent islands impact assessment.
It presses for a meeting to be urgently organised between the council, airport operator HIAL and government ministers.
It was counter-signed by fellow Shetland South members Allison Duncan and Robbie McGregor, whose ward includes Sumburgh Airport.
The motion centres on plans by government-owned HIAL to modernise air traffic control services at Sumburgh Airport, and Kirkwall, Stornoway and Dundee, by moving them to a central facility in Inverness.
A recently published islands impact assessment highlighted that the plans could bring about the potential loss of around 17 well-paid full-time equivalent jobs at Sumburgh Airport with a total gross salary of £670,000.
Smith’s motion said that the council notes with “extreme caution” the findings of the report.
“The report states that HIAL’s proposals will have ‘very significant’ negative impacts for Shetland,” it added.
“It is time for the Scottish Government to demonstrate that the requirements of the Islands Act are more than mere words on paper.
“Island communities impact assessments are carried out for a purpose and their findings must be valued and respected.”
During Wednesday’s meeting Smith described project as a “sorry state of affairs”.
He said the islands impact assessment “makes grim reading for a Sumburgh and Shetland perspective” and added that the response from the government and HIAL on the report has not been good enough.
Fellow south councillor Duncan said the loss of jobs would have a “devastating impact in the south mainland community”.
He added that being on the Sumburgh Airport Consultative Committee has been a “complete waste of time”.
SNP councillor McGregor agreed with his colleagues and implored councillors to back the motion.
Chairman of the council’s environment and transport committee Ryan Thomson accused HIAL of being “entirely detached from reality” when it came to the impact of its decisions, and called for its board to be more representative of the islands.
HIAL has said that its board had accepted the potential impacts on local employment and economies and agreed with the further recommendations to explore where HIAL’s operations can create more economic activity for island communities.
It said it also intends to commission an independent study to identify where that can be done, specifically for Lewis, Orkney, Shetland and Uist.
Managing director Inglis Lyon said: “We have always known there would be impacts by undertaking such a significant and complex change management programme.
“To date, there have been no alternative proposals that provide a solution that fully addresses all of the challenges HIAL currently faces.”
HIAL has repeatedly defended its plans as a safe way to deliver air traffic services in the future via a “long-term, sustainable solution to address underlying structural air traffic control issues, as well as staff retention and recruitment challenges across many locations”.
It says the remote tower plan will improve air traffic management resilience, as well as provide a centre of excellence for air traffic management, and training facilities.
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