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Transport / Campaign group set up to lobby for tunnel for Unst

Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland News

A GROUP has been set up by the Unst community to keep the momentum going on the idea of tunnels for Shetland most northerly islands.

Former councillor Alec Priest is behind the group, which held its first meeting on Wednesday and is still in its early stages.

It has been set up as a lobbying group and could put pressure on Shetland Islands Council and the two governments over the issue.

Installing fixed links, like tunnels, to replace the council’s ageing inter-island ferry fleet has long been sought by many.

More recently events were held across Shetland’s islands by MP Alistair Carmichael and MSP Beatrice Wishart to gauge community interest in the idea.

But whilst there appears to be support in the community, how any fixed links would be funded remains an issue.

Priest said the Unst Tunnel Action Group was a case of the community getting together and “trying to make things happen”.

He said there were businesses in the isles in support of tunnels, adding that some appeared ready to help to part-fund initial stages like feasibility studies or ground investigations.

Alec Priest. Photo: Shetland News

“It’s just a case of going through the options and opening dialogue with the council, the UK Government, the Scottish Government, Transport Scotland, HIE – to make them aware that the public is very supportive of getting a fixed link in Unst and Yell,” Priest said.

“It just seems to be that the public wants it, but there doesn’t appear to be any movement from the public sector.”

Priest, who lives in Unst, also said that during his time in the council – from 2017 to 2022 – Transport Scotland made the point to him that there were no tunnel campaign groups in Shetland.

He explained that the action group would be focusing mostly on a tunnel between Unst and Yell.

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“But then also it’s a big boost to Unst if there’s a tunnel between Yell and the mainland,” Priest added.

“I think there would be a big push for both tunnels to be done at the same time.”

Priest said there are also talks ongoing regarding whether a separate group in Yell may also launch.

Wednesday’s meeting had a good turnout, he added, with the intention being to establish the plan of action.

“We’ve settled on at this stage that it would just be a lobbying group, to put the pressure on, and help coordinate and assist in any way we could to get the tunnels moving,” Priest explained.

He believed that fixed links to the North Isles would make businesses there, and ones which deal with their communities, “more viable and a lot more sustainable”.

Carmichael said it was “good to see further progress on fixed links groups for the isles”.

“Beatrice Wishart and myself will do all we can to support and advocate for these campaigns, as we have done through the Tunnel Vision initiative, but it is local people who know best what their community needs.

“Looking forward to working with the Unst group and others as they develop.”

Shetland Islands Council chief executive Maggie Sandison previously said the prospect of a spaceport in Unst strengthened the case for a fixed link to Britain’s most northerly island.

Meanwhile the chief of Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) told Shetland News last month that the “time was right” to consider fixed links and suggested the development agency will be “looking to see how innovative funding mechanisms might be available to deliver this”.

Over to the east of Shetland many in the Whalsay community have long spoken up for a tunnel to their island, and cost estimates were previously drawn up.

A letter on behalf of the Whalsay Community Council this week said their own transport link was “most in need of an upgrade”.

It also expressed disappointment that HIE chief executive Stuart Black did not speak to the Whalsay Community Council on his recent visit to Shetland.

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