A NEW ferry terminal for the Whalsay route at Bonidale on the Shetland mainland has been ruled out as council officials and consultants explore the future of the service.
A vision for how the service will look has been under consideration for a number of years amid frustration in the community over the frequency and capacity of sailings, as well as the age of the two ferries.
The preferred option is a phased approach where progress is made on a new 38m replacement vessel for the Hendra in the immediate term, while improved travel choice options would be explored.
If a fixed link to Whalsay is not prioritised in wider discussions, or if there is clear evidence the new set-up is not going to meet route needs, two replacement 45m vessels and the redevelopment of the pelagic basin at Symbister could instead be pursued.
A tunnel to Whalsay does not feature as an option in the business case process but the council is encouraged to continue to make the case to government for fixed links through an emerging regional transport strategy.
Meanwhile an idea to have sailings dock at a new terminal on the east coast of Shetland mainland instead of Laxo and Vidlin has now been ruled out.
Despite a possible terminal at Bonidale able to reduce journey times from 30 minutes to 22, and therefore allowing more sailings, water depths are greater than anticipated and reliability would likely be poor.
The capital cost for this option would be in the region of £50 million – or £71.5 million when optimism bias is included.
Regional transport partnership ZetTrans is now consulting on the way ahead.
The next step is for an outline business case to develop the case for investment in transport links to Whalsay.
This would aim to offer solutions to the current problems on the Whalsay route and set out how the preferred option could be funded, procured, managed and delivered.
Also under consideration was redeveloping harbour infrastructure and making a new Whalsay ferry terminal at North Voe – but the latter was ruled out.
The cost of options appraised range from £18.8 million (two 38m vessels) to £52.8 million (two new 45m vessels and a terminal at North Voe), with the estimates shifting up slightly when they are risk adjusted.
ZetTrans chairman councillor Ryan Thomson said: “The outline business case sets out a proposed phased approach to tackle the immediate constraints on the ferry service, whilst keeping the long-term options flexible as we continue to work on the case for investment in our inter-island transport infrastructure.
“I would encourage communities to take part in the online engagement which will support the case for delivering improved connections to and from Whalsay.”
Six out of ten of Whalsay residents feel the current ferry service prevents them from making all the journeys that they wish to make, meaning their life choices are restricted.
An initial strategic business case ruled out a tunnel as part of the process – “but not overall” – due to the cost, the timeframe and competition with other fixed link proposals in Shetland and Scotland.
However a fixed link remains the preferred option of the Whalsay community council.
A presentation on the Whalsay improvements recommends that the wider case for fixed links continues to be made to the Scottish Government.
It also warns that redeveloping the pelagic basin at Symbister Pier could potentially undermine the case for fixed links for “several decades”.
The online engagement on the outline business case is live now and will run until 12 noon on 14 February.
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