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Transport / New fixed links group holds ‘extremely constructive’ first meeting

An aerial view of Whalsay. Photo: Ivan Reid

A NEW group bringing together representatives from Scottish island local authorities and two MPs to discuss the issue of fixed links has been formed.

The first meeting was held virtually this morning (Wednesday) and Shetland was represented by SIC environment and transport committee chairman Ryan Thomson and transport planning manager Michael Craigie.

It comes amid an increased desire locally to see fixed links – such as tunnels – being pushed up the political agenda.

They are seen as ways to improve connectivity to some of Shetland’s islands, like Yell, Unst and Whalsay, whilst also tackling the high carbon emissions from ferries. But the high initial cost is their main obstacle.

Last month first minister Nicola Sturgeon told Shetland News that she thought there was a “strong case to be made for fixed links”.

SNP MPs Angus MacNeil MP, who represents the Western Isles, and Brendan O’Hara (Argyll and Bute), led the meeting.

Thomson said the group will discuss how fixed links can be progressed “locally and nationally”.

“It was an extremely constructive and positive conversation, with this new group formed, which will expand as we progress,” he said.

“It’s fantastic to hear of national politicians with real passion, interest and knowledge of not only tunnels and how they can be progressed, but what the real benefits they would bring not only to those who would directly benefit, but to the whole community, and economies of our islands.

“Angus MacNeil MP has been a long-term advocate of fixed links after visiting Faroe Islands, and seeing just what a huge difference they have made to their community and to their economy.”

Thomson said those in the meeting recognised and acknowledged the fundamental stumbling blocks, “including costs, optimum bias among other things, none of which cannot be overcome with determination and will”.

But the councillor said the “obvious substantial initial investment leads to significant long-term stable performance”.

The North Isles member added that with government targets to go “net zero” by 2045 at the latest, there needs to be a “sea change” in infrastructure development.

This “ensures that tunnels are no longer a ‘nice to have’, they are an essential and recognised part of the future model for achieving net zero carbon emissions”, he said.

“Fixed links can no longer mean the future, they have to be the present. I look forward with real enthusiasm to the group’s next meeting, which will be held in the coming weeks.”