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Transport / North Isles action groups set to fundraise themselves for tunnel surveys

SIC chief executive Maggie Sandison said it is ‘really positive’ that the private sector is engaging proactively on fixed links

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

TWO ‘action groups’ in Shetland’s North Isles are set to team up to fundraise for initial geotechnical investigations for possible tunnels to Yell and Unst.

The cost of this work would amount to more than £200,000, but £100,000 has already been pledged by businesses.

And an agreement has been worked on that will allow Shetland Islands Council access to the findings.

Unst Tunnel Action Group chair Alec Priest said fundraising would be done in the community and amongst the private sector.

“It’ll be a couple of weeks before we’re going out and starting to do the major fundraising,” he said this week.

“We’re currently sitting at around £100,000 pledged to us so far from a couple of companies in the North Isles.

“We’re hoping to raise at least another £100,000 from the community and businesses, and then we’ll be able to cover the majority of the first stage of the geotechnical scope of work.”

Shetland Islands Council’s position is that it supports the concept of tunnels replacing ferries on the busiest inter-island routes, such as Bluemull Sound, Yell Sound, Whalsay and Bressay. But the cost of exploring this has always proved prohibitive.

Councillors did sign off a £700,000 project earlier this year to create a network strategy on Shetland’s entire inter-island transport system, with tunnels forming part of this. It could take around 18 months to complete.

It comes against a backdrop of Shetland Islands Council’s ferry fleet continuing to age, with tunnels seen as a long-term replacement for some.

Fixed links for Yell and Unst in particular have gained momentum considering SaxaVord Spaceport on the horizon in addition to existing aquaculture activity in the North Isles.

Space centre planning decision bolsters case for Unst fixed link, council chief says

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Action groups were formed by the community in both islands to try to see what could be done to help push things forward.

Priest said the fundraising, if successful, would cover initial geologist investigations and depth surveys to see where the best routes would go.

He said this information has never been collated for the North Isles before.

“This is the first step,” Priest said. “This is the way that it’s done everywhere else in the world – they need to do this initial geotechnical investigation and then they know where they stand with that – everything else is just speculation.

“We could potentially get to the level of being able to do the full geotechnical scope of work, but that’s in an ideal situation where we raise tonnes and tonnes of money.

“Initially we’ll be sticking to phase one, but if more money becomes available we could progress onto doing the full boreholes to really get the risk to the council or any developer for building tunnels as low as possible.”

The groups also recently met Faroese civil engineers Articon, who have experience in fixed links. Faroe’s network of tunnels has often been seen as inspiration for Shetland.

The Articon team helped with providing indicative costing of the surveys – while a trip to Faroe for action group representatives may be on the cards to visit a community which similarly pushed forward with a tunnel itself.

Shetland Islands Council chief executive Maggie Sandison said the local authority will continue to meet with the tunnel groups regularly as they go through any procurement activity to “make sure that any data can be used by the council”.

“We are talking to them about making sure that their work is complementary rather than something that we would have to replicate,” she added.

“I think it is really positive that the private sector is engaging proactively in supporting the work of the council and moving forward politically important projects.”

Sandison said the council itself has a business case model process that it has to follow in terms of getting possible funding from government.

“Otherwise, we would never get any investment from any government, and as we move through that process and if there is information available to be used and would save work being carried out, then that adds value, but we have to make sure that whatever gets produced is available to us in that way,” she said.

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