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Letters / Fixed links are the best options – financially and environmentally

Another decade and yet another transport consultation and yet again the tunnel option is dismissed.

New mainland Whalsay ferry terminal ruled out

This latest transport consultation also appears to have excluded a few crucial details regarding the Whalsay transport link; they do not mention the fact that SIC councillors voted to pursue the development of a tunnel to Whalsay in 2010; instead of a ferry service working out of the North Voe of Symbister, their officials were then directed to seek out funding for the fixed link.

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Despite this directive the officials appear to have pursued a policy over the past decade, for the renewal of ferry services.

There is also no mention of the tunnel petitions circulated in the Whalsay community and presented to the SIC, showing a resounding majority in favour of a fixed link to Whalsay.

The officials appear to be following the same course as they did in 2002, when they proposed the construction of new ferries and terminals; at a cost of £19.4 million for the Yell sound route, compared to their fixed link price of £100 million.

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However, residents in Yell requested tunnelling costs from Norway and received figures that showed a tunnel could be built in Yell sound for £22 million at that time.

A detailed estimate was sought and a price of £26.9 million to a worst-case scenario cost of £32.5 million was presented to the SIC, the tunnel option was eventually dismissed and the construction of ferries and terminals for £19.4 million was approved.

As the construction progressed the costs escalated, till in 2006 they had reached £37.1 million; over £10 million more than the estimated construction cost of the tunnel.

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The Yell ferry running costs acquired by freedom of information show that from 2006 to 2013, £19,899,883 was spent on Yell Sound running costs in only seven years.

Tunnel running costs at that time would have been less than a half a million, for a Yell tunnel; so the total tunnel running costs for seven years would have been less than £3.5 million.

Those ferry figures are actual running costs so they do not need to be altered with discounting or optimism bias and therefore prove that the statement in the SIITS report, implying that it is cheaper to run ferries for 60 years than it is to run tunnels for 60 years cannot be so.

This apparently flawed comment included in the SIITS document devalues the credibility of the whole report.

The 2015/16 Yell ferry running costs, were shown in the SIITS report to be £5.8 million and the “My Ferry” brochure produced by the SIC in 2021 appears to show a further 40 per cent increase of the total 2015/16 SIC ferries running costs up to a 2021/22 figure of £22.9 million.

The Whalsay Fixed Link Summary Paper in the SIITS report is also full of figures that lack credibility, as they appear to be copied from the Donaldson’s Associates Fixed Link Working Paper-Supplement- ‘Bottom-Up’ cost estimates; where they used estimated figures for a Whalsay tunnel, derived from estimated Bressay tunnel figures; which were then compared to the quoted construction cost of a Whalsay tunnel received from a Norwegian tunnelling company.

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At the end of the Donaldson report, they have a conclusion stating that the figures they had used were overly pessimistic and led to an overestimate in construction cost and,

“The difference between the UK and Norwegian construction cost-estimates can be attributed to a number of reasons, which include things as diverse as recent exchange rate discounts following Brexit, to greater efficiencies in tunnelling in Norway construction realised by the availability of small highly multi-skilled workforce”

This appears to be an admission that the figures that Donaldson’s had used in their report were flawed.

Perhaps the time is long overdue that the SIC and their employed officials, accept the fact that the fixed links options; from the Shetland mainland to Whalsay and to Yell and then on to Unst, are the most financially and environmentally friendly transport link options presently proposed to those islands.

William Polson
Whalsay

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