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Transport / ‘More needs to be done’ on boat passenger capacity, councillor says

The NorthLink ferry terminal in Lerwick. Chris Cope/Shetland News

PASSENGER capacity constraints on the NorthLink ferries have again been raised, with a Lerwick councillor saying she was unable to get a car and cabin in September “for love nor money”.

Amanda Hawick told a meeting of Shetland’s external transport forum that the situation was causing “real problems” and was resulting in some folk being unable to go south for work at short notice.

“I think more needs to be done for the residents and the lifeline service for the people of Shetland,” the councillor said.

She also questioned if priority could be given to islanders.

Lerwick South member Amanda Westlake is worried about the impact a three per cent council tax rise will have on the working poor.
Lerwick South member Amanda Hawick. Photo: Shetland News

Hawick, a regular traveller herself, said some constituents had been in touch with her about lack of capacity.

This included someone who had to wait three days before leaving Shetland.

In response, Serco NorthLink chief Stuart Garrett explained that under its contract there is no priority for either visitors or islanders.

He said certain projects requiring deck space on the boat – Garrett’s example was the BBC crime drama filming – can naturally reduce capacity.

The peak livestock season in September and October also tends to cause capacity issues when it comes to freight, and that is proving no different this year.

Shetlanders also tend to book further in advance than Orkney, Garrett said.

But Hawick said Orcadians have more options to head south on the ferry, including through the Pentland Firth.

Transport Scotland’s Alan McCabe said: “We are aware of the passenger constraints as well as freight.”

This is why the government agency is seriously looking at models of replacement freight boats which would offer space for additional passengers, he said.

Forum chairman councillor Ryan Thomson said this ‘freighter plus’ model was the “logical step forward”.

McCabe also said in the pandemic less people are travelling in each vehicle on board – such as one person with one car – which is taking up more space.

Shared cabins also remain off limits due to ongoing Covid restrictions.