THE UK Government minister for Scotland says one “takeaway” from his recent trip to Shetland is to see what support can be given to exploring the feasibility of fixed links.
MP John Lamont was in Shetland on Wednesday and Thursday, and on his schedule was a meeting with the council.
He said the aspiration for fixed links such as tunnels to replace some of Shetland’s inter-island ferries was discussed, while it was also brought up during most of his other engagements.
The Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk MP visited a Scottish Sea Farms site in Burra, the proposed Unst spaceport and Blueshell Mussels in Brae.
Speaking to Shetland News, he said it was “very clear that businesses and the council recognise that [fixed links] would improve the connectivity and thereby the economic prosperity of the islands”.
The MP said he discussed a “number of options” regarding fixed links with council leadership.
It comes ahead of a councillors’ seminar on fixed links and inter-island connectivity later this month.
While transport is a devolved matter to Scotland the council has previously raised the issue with the UK Government.
“The UK Government has a number of pots of money, whether it’s through the growth deals, levelling up – and when I go back to Westminster I’ll be speaking to my colleagues just looking to what we might be able to do in terms of moving that discussion forward,” Lamont said.
“Clearly the next stage in terms of any project for tunnels would be a feasibility study.
“One of our takeaways from this trip is going to be looking to see what the UK Government can do to maybe help with that.
“Technically roads infrastructure is usually something for the Scottish Government, but there is a number of options that the UK Government might be able to help with.”
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He reiterated that having a nationally important spaceport in Unst would enhance the case for a tunnel – or two – in the North Isles.
“It is remarkable that they’ve achieved what they have with the ferry links as they stand just now,” Lamont said.
Meanwhile the Tory MP said he hoped the government is looking to see what more can be done to support people living in “off-grid” homes reliant on heating oil, for example.
The government has pledged a £100 payment to those on heating oil but there are calls to go further, such as introducing a price cap.
It comes amid already high levels of fuel poverty in Shetland which only stand to rise further.
He sympathised with the idea of a ‘Shetland tariff’ – cheaper electricity for islanders given that, for instance, the large Viking Energy wind farm will be on their doorstep.
Lamont said he understood energy regulator Ofgem was looking to see what more can be done on the idea.
“Undoubtedly this is a real problem for many households just now, and if there’s practical solutions that work, we should be looking at them,” he said.
Shetland Islands Council convener Andrea Manson said following the visit: “I am delighted that the minister has prioritised Shetland for his first ministerial visit and I was happy to welcome him to Shetland.
“This was a fantastic opportunity to showcase the opportunities Shetland has in space, aquaculture and new energy. It was a positive chance to engage on fixed links and Levelling Up.”
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