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Transport / Scottish transport minister on fixed links: ‘It’s early days but there’s interest from me’

THE SCOTTISH Government’s new minister for transport says she is “interested” in the idea of fixed links in Shetland.

Fiona Hyslop spent yesterday (Wednesday) in Shetland before taking the evening ferry to Orkney – without a cabin, although arrival in Kirkwall was 11pm.

Transport minister Fiona Hyslop at the NorthLink ferry terminal. Photo: Ciara Tait

She also discussed inter-island travel with Shetland News before catching the boat.

“The Scottish government has provided all the councils that have got their own responsibilities for running and procuring ferries, with £136 million over the last five years,” Hyslop said.

“Shetland has seen a 34 per cent increase in the amount of revenue support they’ve had for this current year.”

As the council’s ferry fleet continues to age, and more expensive repairs are needed, locals and the SIC alike are looking into alternatives.

Shetland News revealed that in 2022/23 the maintenance bill for the council’s ferries had increased to nearly £5.4 million.

Meanwhile action groups in Yell and Unst have combined to fundraise itself for geotechnical surveys for possible tunnels in the North Isles.

The council supports the idea of fixed links in Shetland for the busiest ferry routes, but the potential source of funding still remains unclear.

The SNP member, who took on the transport brief in June, said: “In terms of procurement of new ferries, that’s a capital investment not a revenue investment, and that’s a responsibility of Shetland council.

“But we know that that’s a challenge and that’s why the ferry task force was set up between the Scottish Government and Shetland Islands Council.

“We can help share what we can in terms of expertise, but they know that they’re going to have to find different solutions and they’re in early stages of that discussion.”

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Turning to the possibility of fixed links, Hyslop said: “I’m interested in the work that Shetland Islands Council are doing in terms of their wider connectivity and also the transport partnership, in terms of what they want to see… whether it’s a carbon emission reduction or other perspectives.

“Other places have significant investment from the private sector, for example if you look at Faroe…that’s early stages yet.

“In terms of my position, I’m interested and hoping to see what they’re going to be able to do.

“It’s early days but there’s interest from me as transport minister.”

The MSP added that private investment could be one avenue for fixed links.

Shetland Islands Council leader Emma Macdonald said Hyslop was involved in a meeting of a ferries replacement taskforce which took place this afternoon.

“It was a good meeting that recognised the challenges we face as an island council in replacing our ageing vessels and the need to do this in some cases before we are potentially at a stage to consider alternatives such as tunnels,” she said.

SIC political leader Emma Macdonald. Photo: Shetland News

“Whilst we are undertaking considerable work in exploring the business case for replacements, we have yet to identify the funding solutions so there’s still a long way to go but that fact we are in a place of sharing information and the understanding that this is a responsibility the local government can’t afford alone.

“We spoke about the importance of our island communities and how we need to ensure sustainable services to ensure thriving communities.

“The revenue funding we receive from the Scottish government makes a considerable difference to the council and therefore our communities and we are very glad that we have got to a place that recognises the importance of this.

“All in all it was a positive meeting and a good introduction to the transport minister and I look forward to continuing our conversation in future meetings.”

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