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Council / New environment and transport committee chair hopeful on fixed links

Moraig Lyall is keen to see the environment side of the busy brief get more air time

Shetland Central councillor Moraig Lyall. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

THE NEW chair of the Shetland Islands Council’s (SIC) environment and transport committee says the “time is right” to push ahead with fixed links.

However Moraig Lyall, who was appointed to the role at the first meeting of the new council on Monday, stressed the need for the SIC to be prepared and ready – should finance for tunnels to be made available.

The Shetland Central member, who was first elected to the council in a by-election in 2019, narrowly beat Robbie McGregor by 11 votes to 10 for the environment and transport committee job.

She said she had “no clear expectation” that she would end up trumping McGregor, who was the committee’s vice-chair in the last council term.

Lyall feels she can bring a more environmental focus to the role, which was previously held by North Isles member Ryan Thomson.

Despite this, the councillor acknowledges that there are “so many pressing issues” in the transport side of the busy brief – such as the internal ferries and external transport.

“So there’s just so much in that area that it’s almost not really surprising that the environment side of the brief has had less air time,” Lyall added.

“But in the background there’s obviously been quite a lot going on – the whole climate change team has been put together, and they’re working away on the net zero plans – but taking those plans from paper and moving them forward is going to be a big part of the next few years.

“I suppose what I see as one of the difficulties is all the day to day operational stuff that has to be kept going, balanced with the future, medium to long-term desires.”

Lyall, who has a background in teaching, has previously voiced her support for more footpaths in Shetland – while she has expressed concern at the impact of the Viking Energy wind farm construction.

Meanwhile take a look at most councillors’ leaflets for the local government election in May and support for fixed links – to islands like Unst, Yell, Whalsay and Bressay – was evident.

However, how they are financed is the big battle. Last week the chief of the planned SaxaVord Spaceport in Unst said he felt the project could act as a “lever” for fixed links being developed.

The Bressay ferry. Photo: SIC

Lyall is hopeful that progress will be made on developing fixed links to some of the islands.

“I think what we need to do is to plough ahead with the planning and preparation for them so that when the finance becomes available, as I believe it will at some point in the future, we’re ready to go,” she said.

“Because there’s no point in the government opening up funding for it and us saying it’s going take us years to get to the point where we can actually take advantage of that. We need to be ready to go when the money becomes available. That means beginning to work on the business cases.

“I do feel that the time now is right for this to be pushed ahead with.”

Lyall added that “in some ways the stars are aligning a wee bit” – the environmental factor behind replacing the fuel-guzzling ferries with a permanent link, the Unst space centre, tackling depopulation, and creating a more inclusive society.

“I think that all these factors together will hopefully begin to get the funders – whether it’s Scottish or UK government level – thinking, you know what, this is something that needs to be done.”

Lyall also said she cannot see a route to net zero for the council that “doesn’t involve getting rid of a substantial number of the ferries”.

“Some people say it could be a ferry that uses a different fuel, but even that I don’t think will be sufficient. I think it has to be the fixed link.”

Robbie McGregor, meanwhile, will continue in his role as the committee’s vice-chair. He was absent from Monday’s meeting as he was in hospital.

Lyall said she had been hoping to start with the experience of the councillor alongside her. “Along with everyone else I’m wishing him a most speedy recovery,” she said.

The environment transport committee is completed by Duncan Anderson, Andrea Manson, John Leask, Catherine Hughson, Dennis Leask, Arwed Wenger, Alex Armitage and Emma Macdonald.