It is now more than five decades since the SIC made the inspirational decision to combat the depopulation of Trondra and Burra by building bridges.
This allowed the residents of those isles the freedom to commute daily to the Shetland mainland anytime 24 hours a day. Considering the population in Trondra was down to around 17 during the pre-bridge era, it would be interesting to know how many of the present residents in those islands would have built homes there; had the bridges never been built, and how many of the people presently living in those Islands would have been able to retain jobs on the Shetland mainland, if they were constrained by the limitations of a ferry service timetable?
When the SIC changed course regarding fixed links is not known but in 2002 SIC officialdom successfully deprived the Yell residents of a fixed link in Yell sound.
They persuaded the councillors that building new ferries and terminals for their estimated cost of around £19.4 million and continuing running ferry services, was a cheaper option than building a tunnel for £26.9 million to a worst case cost of £32.5 million
However, the cost for the construction and running of the Yell sound service during the years 2003 to 2006 was revealed by the SIC finance director James Gray in 2013 to have been £37 million.
Over the past two decades SIC officials appear to have continually tried to persuade the councillors to build ferries and terminals, to connect our North isles to the Shetland mainland.
Doing so, despite the SIC’s own figures showing that the carbon and financial costs for the continuation of running ferry services are enormous; in comparison to the savings they could make with fixed links, (the SIC 2015/20 carbon management plan shows that 47 per cent of SIC energy consumption is due to ferries, 64 per cent of this is on the Whalsay and Yell sound routes).
Documents also show that it is about ten times more costly to run ferries than the cost of running a tunnel. SIC documents show that the combined cost of running the Whalsay and Yell sound ferries in 2015/16 was £9.2 million, SIC ferries cost figures presented recently show a rise of more than 40 per cent from the 2015/16 figures.
It should be a serious cause for concern for us all, that SIC officials apparently presenting flawed figures; have caused the SIC to spend vast sums of public finance to keep those ferries running, when fixed links could have been built and run for a fraction of the cost.
In 2010 the Shetland Islands councillors voted in favour of the construction of a tunnel for the Whalsay route, instead of a renewed ferry service and they directed their officials to search for funding for the tunnel.
A poll was taken within Whalsay and tunnel was found to be the preferred transport option by a large majority of the community, as it was obvious that the continuation of the ferry services to our isle was nearing crisis point, our ferry terminal is in a worrying state of decay and would require replacement in the near future
The ferry Hendra, being nearly 40 years old has no disabled access to the toilets, or the passenger lounge and on arriving in Whalsay, you are faced with a dilapidated ferry terminal waiting room and public toilets; with again no disabled access.
The Hendra is nearly forty years old and the other ferry Linga is nearing twenty years old, twenty years was once considered to be the replacement life-term for all of the Shetland ferries.
The SIC officials now appear to say they are in favour of building fixed links, but not to Whalsay and to date they appear to have sourced no funding for any fixed links.
Consequently, the Whalsay community have sourced and presented three offers to the SIC; for the construction of a Whalsay tunnel. Offers of funding were also sourced; including a detailed design and Quote for the construction of the tunnel, all were dismissed by the SIC and Scottish Government; based on information provided by SIC officials, that appears to have been seriously flawed.
Whether this was the result of incompetence or deliberate attempts to halt the construction of fixed links we do not know, but it is clearly evident that if the SIC wish to advance with fixed links, they may require to make a complete overhaul of the departments responsible for blocking that progress, to allow the SIC to achieve a more sustainable financial and environmentally friendly future for our Shetland Islands transport links.
Building fixed links to cut carbon and transport costs would serve the Shetland community far better, than turning Shetland and its surrounding seas that the fishing industry depends on; into a giant wind-farm, to the detriment of the industry that has helped to sustain life in Shetland for hundreds; if not thousands of years.