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Transport / ‘Let’s get this over the line’: transport partnership supports Fair Isle ferry funding bid

Fair Isle.

PLANS to bid for up to £25 million of new UK government funding for upgrades to the Fair Isle ferry service received a warm welcome from members of Shetland’s transport partnership on Monday.

The proposal includes replacing the ageing Good Shepherd IV with a bespoke ro-ro vessel, as well as harbour works in both Fair Isle and at the other end of the route at Grutness in the south mainland of Shetland.

The new vessel, which would be larger and faster than the current one and continue to have a 12 passenger capacity, is estimated to cost £4.8 million, while harbour infrastructure is thought to have a price tag of just over £20 million.

An outline business case on the improvements went in front of ZetTrans members at Monday’s meeting, while it is also due to be heard by council committees over the coming days.

While the hope has been for the Scottish Government to fund the improvements, a new £4.8 billion UK Government ‘Levelling Up’ fund has now been pinpointed as a possible way of getting the works paid for.

The deadline for the first round of funding is 18 June, and this stage happens to have a transport theme.

Proposals for a new Fair Isle ferry, and the harbour improvements, have been in the works for a number of years and there was growing frustration in the council chamber over the lack of progress on funding from the Scottish Government.

Speaking at Monday’s ZetTrans meeting chairman Ryan Thomson said a new ferry was “long overdue”.

He suggested Fair Isle residents would not “give a jot” about whether the funding came from the Scottish or UK government.

“Politics really is secondary to this very essential case,” the North Isles member said.

“I would like to see it get underway if possible by the time that this ZetTrans committee and council committee winds up in 2022.”

Thomson added: “Let’s get this over the line by whatever means necessary for the people of Fair Isle.”

His views were echoed by Shetland Central member Davie Sandison, who suggested a positive funding bid could unlock other opportunities in the future.

“We need to make sure we pursue it with every effort possible,” he said.

During the meeting ZetTrans lead officer Michael Craigie said the proposed funding bid of £25 million was the “confident estimate” of the cost – but this has contingency built into it.

The report will now go onto Shetland Islands Council’s environment and transport committee on Tuesday, before having a final airing at a meeting of the full council on 16 June.