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Transport / Government keen to learn more about fixed links

SIC leader Emma Macdonald said the local authority had a ‘constructive meeting’ with the transport minister

Tunnels like this one in Faroe are seen by some as the way forward. Photo: UK Government

TALKS are planned between government agency Transport Scotland and Shetland Islands Council to glean local expertise on fixed links and the lessons learned from Faroe.

Scottish transport minister Jenny Gilruth said she had a “good discussion” with the council on the subject during her visit to Shetland on Tuesday.

The idea of replacing some inter-island ferries with fixed links – tunnels or bridges – for areas like Yell, Unst, Whalsay and Bressay was a hot topic in May’s local government election.

There is a broad support for pursuing fixed links within the council chamber, but the cost means the SIC cannot do it alone.

Those in the council, though, say the message from the Scottish Government regarding fixed links has been that the inter-island ferries are their responsibility.

Gilruth said this is why Shetland was left out of the government’s recent Strategic Transport Projects Review 2 (STPR2) report but some potential fixed links off the west coast – where the publicly-owned CalMac is contracted to run services – were.

Speaking to Shetland News on Tuesday following a meeting with council representatives, Gilruth stopped short of giving any commitment to the idea of fixed links in Shetland.

But she said there is a plan now in place for Transport Scotland to learn more from the council’s knowledge of fixed links in other parts of the world, such as Faroe.

“We had a really helpful discussion this afternoon with the local authority, and as an action point from that meeting I’ve asked my officials in Transport Scotland to work with local authority officials in Shetland Island Council to see where we might be able to learn from some of their expertise,” she said.

“I know there’s a lot of intelligence here from work that has been ongoing, between I think the Shetland Island Council and the work that’s been undertaken in the Faroes.

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“So where we might in government be able to learn from that, as a starting point that will be a way forward, recognising that the finances in the Scottish Government at this moment in time are stretched.

“These are really challenging times for people, facing that cost of living crisis, and I know that all in government ministers are really focused on what more we can do to alleviate those challenges.

“I’ve given an undertaking that officials in Transport Scotland work with the local authority on fixed links and where we might be able to learn lessons from other parts of the world.”

SIC political leader Emma Macdonald. Photo: Shetland News

SIC leader Emma Macdonald said council representatives talked up the difference fixed links could make to the community, “whilst also acknowledging that the council can’t do it alone”.

But she said it was a “very positive” meeting with the transport minister.

“It was a good constructive meeting that allowed us to explore some of the challenges we face and also the opportunities we have,” she said.

“We recognise that many of the transport challenges will take time to find solutions that work for our communities, but this meeting was a good opportunity to start the conversation with Scottish Government about how we work together to find these solutions.

“Having the ability to have face to face meetings again allows us to come together and have really helpful and meaningful discussions.

“We are looking forward to further engagement with the minister and appreciate the time we had with her and her team.

“Obviously these solutions don’t just appear overnight, but we left the meeting with further areas to explore in more detail but more importantly from my perspective a willingness to work in collaboration for the benefit of everyone.”

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