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Council / Work on new Fair Isle ferry project underway to meet tight deadlines

Contractors from Holequest are now on site at the Grutness Pier and have started with the first test bore hole. Photo: Ronnie Robertson

WORK IS now under way to build a 25 metre Fair Isle ferry, two ro-ro terminals, associated road works as well as a slipway to remove the boat from the water during winter months – all to be completed by April 2026.

Last month, the UK Government approved a £26.7 million Levelling-Up funding bid by Shetland Islands Council to replace the 40-year-old Fair Isle ferry.

The funding has been widely welcomed on and off Fair Isle and is seen as a crucial investment to keep the community on Britain’s most remote inhabited island going.

Delivering the project in the tight timeframe however will be challenging and requires officers to prioritise this project over other council ambitions.

The SIC will have to put forward 10 per cent of its own money to release the levelling up funding in what is a £30 million project.

Council chief executive Maggie Sandison said: “I am confident the council will prioritise the Fair Isle ferry and complete the project to meet the deadlines.”

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Some funds have already been committed for initial site surveys ahead of the bird breeding season on Fair Isle and at Grutness, while a series of community engagement meetings were held earlier this week.

Director of infrastructure John Smith said a naval architect will be appointed in due course to design a ferry that is set to look more like a salmon farm workboat than one of the council’s other island ferries.

The new ferry will be about 25 metres in length with a capacity of up to four vehicles and needs to strike a balance between seaworthiness, efficiency and meeting the needs of islanders, Smith said.

The Fair Isle ferry has been and will continue to be operated under the workboat code which gives the council a derogation with regards to crewing and allows the SIC to have the ferry operating from the island.

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But building the ferry itself is the least complex of the tasks ahead, according to the chief executive.

“The marine infrastructure works, particulate in Fair Isle are more complex because of the environment in Fair Isle. The boat has also to come out of the water during autumn and winter,” Sandison said.

There has been some speculation whether Fair Isle will continue to have sufficient population to crew an island-based ferry, but according to the SIC there is no alternative to the current set-up.

“Fair Isle very heavily relies on weather windows,” Sandison said. “The crewing of the vessel from Fair Isle in my opinion is really important.

“It’s because the crew is community based that they are willing to run in that weather window.

“Should the weather window be at 3am in the morning, the crew will get up and get the ferry out.

“I am not convinced that if you don’t live on the island, you would ever be able to create a contract that would enable anybody to work in the way the Fair Isle crew does.”

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