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Transport / Move faster on making ferry terminals more accessible, audit councillors say

The Fair Isle ferry travels to Grutness at the tip of the south mainland. Photo: Shetland News

COUNCILLORS have expressed their frustration at the pace of introducing accessible toilet facilities at some inter-island ferry terminals.

Audit committee chairman Allison Duncan’s message was clear as he called for work to be carried out urgently.

An update on accessible toilet provision at ferry terminals and on board the vessels themselves was given to a meeting of Shetland Islands Council’s audit committee on Tuesday.

A number of terminals and ferries do not have accessible toilets and the council has been reviewing its provision.

Accessible toilet and saloon arrangements are not available on the council ferries Hendra, Geira, Good Shepherd, Bigga, Snolda and Fivla.

Accessible toilet arrangements are provided at all ferry terminals apart from the waiting facility at Lerwick for the Bressay ferry, Symbister, Grutness, Fair Isle and Foula.

For the Symbister terminal in Whalsay a temporary accessible toilet facility has been procured and is in storage at Sella Ness.

An engineering consultant is producing a design for ground preparation, an access ramp and suitable parking arrangements, and there is a hope to have things in place in the coming months.

Meanwhile there has been less success at Grutness in the South Mainland, which is where the Fair Isle ferry docks.

Ferry waiting room at Symbister.

Efforts to secure a suitable temporary facility like Whalsay have so far been unsuccessful, but there is an option to replace the existing Portakabin set-up with a new combined waiting room and accessible toilet.

This project has been costed up and the council has been successful in securing 50 per cent towards the building cost from Transport Scotland.

Should everything go to plan the new facility is likely to be installed during the summer.

Discussions are also ongoing to look into the provision of a suitable waiting room, store and accessible toilet at Foula, which currently has no facilities, but the meeting heard land ownership may be a hurdle.

There are also no facilities at the North Haven harbour in Fair Isle, but councillors were told a new Fair Isle Bird Observatory will restore previous arrangements whereby people could use facilities there.

There are also no facilities at the Bressay terminal in Lerwick, but a report to councillors highlighted the close proximity of the Esplanade public toilets.

Some councillors were left rather unimpressed, however, with how things are progressing across the board.

While some of the newer ferries have accessible facilities, the older vessels do not and cannot be reconfigured so in some cases it has been a long-term issue.

Infrastructure director John Smith admitted there was a clear gap in service.

“It’s a poor show that people in need can’t go to the loo because of some kind of disability,” Shetland Central member Ian Scott said during debate.

“This is legal? I don’t know these things…but I do think we are doing a disservice to our people.”

Shetland South member Duncan added: “I think this report today has shown serious flaws, and improvements have to be made.”

He claimed that people in Fair Isle and Foula, as well as Whalsay to an extent, have not been treated equitably.

Lerwick member Cecil Smith also was not chuffed that toilet provision in Fair Isle was dependent on a new bird observatory being built after the old building burned down in 2019.

He was it was “unacceptable” to wait on a building which does not yet have planning permission.

“I think that as an audit committee we should be pushing for this to be moving faster,” Smith said.

With no publicly accessible toilets near either the Fair Isle or Foula harbours, Shetland Central member Moraig Lyall remarked it was “an issue for everybody that visits the islands”.

Meanwhile Lerwick North member John Fraser asked if the Esplanade public toilet opening times matched the Bressay’s ferry timetable.

John Smith said he understood this was not the case, with the ferry timetable running outside the toilet times.

He said the council could consult with the Bressay community.

But Smith said generally there was a balance to be struck between cost and benefit.

Meanwhile Ian Scott told the audit committee that while he has no mobility problems, he was once caught short on a ferry in Venice.

“I really do appreciate how people in a less fortunate position than me are put into that situation,” he said.