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Transport / SIC transport chair welcomes government minister’s stance on tunnels

UK Government’s Scotland minister Iain Stewart was recently in Faroe on a fact-finding trip

Shetland Central councillor Moraig Lyall. Photo: Shetland News

A UK Government minister saying tunnels to Scottish islands would be worth exploring has been hailed as “good news” by the chair of Shetland Islands Council’s environment and transport committee.

Moraig Lyall’s comments comes after Iain Stewart – who is the UK Government’s Scotland minister – appeared to talk up the idea of fixed links after a fact-finding trip to Faroe.

While his views were aired in the national media today (Monday), they reflect what he already said during a visit to Shetland earlier this year.

Stewart said he has an “open mind” regarding fixed links – but he acknowledges in some cases they may not be practical.

He said there is more of a need for tunnels in places in Shetland and Orkney, where ferries are ageing.

The MP said it was a “live issue under discussion between people on the islands and their representatives and I am happy to share my findings with them and the Scottish Government”.

“Ultimately it’s a matter for those on the islands as to whether this is something they’d like to see developed in the future,” he added. “Cost is a factor, as it is for ferry renewals, but it’s more than about the pounds and pence – the Faroes have shown how such tunnels can help their communities not only survive, but thrive.”

Lyall said it is good news that government appears to be “warming up to the idea that tunnels are a feasible option for connecting islands like those in Shetland”.

The stumbling block for fixed links is the price, with Stewart saying it costs around £20 million per kilometre in Faroe.

MP Iain Stewart inside one of Faroe’s famed tunnels.

However, council chief executive Maggie Sandison said in March that the opportunity for talks with government over a fixed link to Unst for instance is “far more advanced” after the island’s proposed spaceport secured planning permission.

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It comes after fresh disruption on the Bluemull Sound ferry route in recent days, with the service suspended altogether on Saturday afternoon due to a lack of staff.

This meant there were no ferries to or from Unst or Fetlar during this time.

The service to and from Yell meanwhile has also suffered disruption this year.

“After a weekend where many of our residents have suffered huge inconvenience caused by issues with our current ferry service, we need to be looking at making our existing provision more robust while continuing to make the case for fixed links as a more resilient option for remote island communities,” Lyall said.

“It’s distressing the hear of how the recent suspension of service has affected families and we need to find ways of avoiding this happening.”

A spokesman for SNP transport minister Jenny Gilruth is reported to have said in response to Stewart’s comments that the Scottish Government would be happy to hear about his Faroe learnings – but reminded him that transport is a devolved issue.

Faroe is well known for its network of tunnels between islands and Sigurd Lamhauge, the chief executive of the organisation which oversees transport projects in the country, said that tunnels have brought “positive change” there.

Lamhauge also spoke at an online discussion event held earlier this year about the idea of fixed links for Shetland.

The clear majority of those attending the event were in support of fixed links for Yell, Unst, Whalsay and Bressay – even if a toll charge was in place for their use.

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