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Transport / Zero carbon ferries but no fixed links

Wednesday's strike action has been suspended after a breakthrough in talks between the SIC and Unite - Photo: ShetNews
Fixed links to any of the islands are still a long way off.

ISLES politicians have called for a renewed effort to look at fixed links for the North Isles – with a prominent local councillor saying that getting a “spade in the ground” is essential in the next five years.

On Thursday Scottish transport secretary Michael Matheson unveiled the Scottish Government’s second strategic transport projects review featuring 45 recommendations to make transport more sustainable.

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It includes the investigation of “some potential fixed link connections” for the Outer Hebrides islands of Harris and Barra, along with a possible link between Mull and the Scottish mainland.

Councillors and parliamentarians representing Shetland have spent many years extolling the virtues of fixed links to replace several costly and ageing inter-island ferries in the North Isles.

SIC environment and transport committee chairman Ryan Thomson said the local authority had been aware in advance that Shetland would not feature in the aspirational new document but he was “disappointed” that it did not cover all islands where fixed links were possible.

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“To have these studies funded for one part of the country and not other parts is extremely disappointing,” he said.

“I recognise there is a consultation process ongoing into STPR2, and we must feed into this that feasibility studies must be commissioned for all islands where fixed links are possible, including for our islands here in Shetland.

“If there is a failure to understand the significance of inter-island transport in Shetland, we must look [at] all possible options to fund fixed links as we simply cannot afford to be left behind.

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“We cannot stand still, progress must now be a priority as the very existence and future of our islands is at stake.

“I’ve gone on record as saying we need to get the spade in the ground in the next five years – that is essential.”

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart, meanwhile, said she had raised the issue with the Scottish Government – citing First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s recognition in late 2021 of the Unst Spaceport’s national importance.

She pointed out that fixed link infrastructure could benefit communities in the North Isles as well as the space project and other key industries such as fishing and aquaculture.

But when she asked Matheson if fixed links between islands in Shetland would be added to government recommendations, she “was told that this was not part of the plan”.

Wishart said: “I was pleased to see plans to renew and decarbonise lifeline ferries. Vessels do not last forever, and new procurement will be required to enable a cleaner reliable and more accessible ferry service.

“Fixed links could be transformative for Shetland but the voices of the community need to be aired and that is the discussion [Northern Isles MP] Alistair Carmichael and I wish to facilitate.

“A public discussion about the challenges, aspirations and varying needs of each island community is important in this infrastructure debate.”

Highlands and Islands Green MSP Ariane Burgess also welcomed the government shift towards public transport, active travel and delivery of zero carbon ferries.

“The review proposes to deliver key transport projects across Scotland including a much-anticipated delivery of modern, zero carbon ferries for Shetland ferry services,” she said.

“This strategy sets a much better direction of travel for future investment nationally and supports Shetland’s lifeline services and transition to Net-Zero.”

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