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Transport / Project manager lined up for inter-island transport strategy

Meanwhile tunnel action groups have welcomed news that Scottish Secretary Alister Jack is to meet with SIC to talk transport

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

A PROJECT manager has now been appointed for Shetland Islands Council’s (SIC) £700,000 plan to develop an inter-island transport network strategy, which could include tunnels.

SIC environment and transport chair Moraig Lyall said whilst the appointment is still going through HR, it is a “positive move” forward.

Meanwhile tunnel action groups in Yell and Unst have welcomed news this week that the UK Government’s Scottish Secretary Alister Jack has lined up a meeting with the SIC on transport.

The two groups have now raised more than £120,000 to go towards geo-technical investigations, socio-economic and environmental impact work on possible tunnels to Yell and Unst.

The information gleaned from these prospective investigations would be shared with the SIC.

Lyall, who represents the Shetland Central ward, said documents for the transport connectivity project are “coming together” – but it is not out to tender yet.

It was back in March that councillors gave the green light to funding the project, and a report to members then said work could be completed in December 2024.

The project would see the creation of business cases which would highlight the best way forward for ferry replacements and possible fixed links.

Yell Sound ferries, MV Dagalien and MV Daggri. Photo: SIC

Lyall also reiterated her view that tunnels would be a cost-saver in the long-term for the Scottish Government, given that it currently covers the cost of maintaining and running the ageing ferry fleet.

“The cost of maintaining the set up as it is, is really eye watering and in some ways untenable,” she said.

“Finding an alternative to that, to me, is not just important but it is obvious that once in place a tunnel would be a massive cost saving for the Scottish Government year on year.”

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Meanwhile the Yell and Unst tunnel action groups have reiterated that the work they are planning themselves is not covered by the SIC’s £700,000 project.

Unst Tunnel Action Group joint chair Duncan Gray said: “We very much appreciate the work that Shetland Islands Council is doing to secure funding for fixed links.

“Meanwhile, our own investigations will complement the council’s work by providing the essential data and insights required to move the project forward to a fundable position.

“To be clear, the necessary geo-technical investigations, socio-economic and environmental impact work, for which we are raising funds, will not be covered by the £700k investment announced by Shetland Islands Council.

“However, these investigations and the impact work we intend to undertake can be fed directly into Shetland Islands Council’s transport connectivity strategy to help to drive the project forward.”

The action groups are currently working with the SIC to formalise the stakeholder group which will guide the development and appraisal of the inter-island transport connectivity business case.

Additionally, three chairs from the action groups have organised a self-funded trip to the Faroe Islands later this month to learn from the Faroese experience.

Faroe is often seen as a blueprint for how tunnels can be done on an island community.

The trip will also include discussions about the impact which tunnels have had on their islands with communities who have completed such developments.

The North Isles groups will continue with fundraising activities until the end of the year, with a variety of online and in-person events planned.

Graham Hughson, joint Chair of Yell group, said: “We are very grateful for all the donations received so far.

“Our aim is to demonstrate tunnels are technically and economically achievable, so that we can work with Shetland Islands Council to take the project to the next stage as swiftly as possible.

“We cannot sit back and watch our islands decline due to ageing and increasingly unreliable ferries. We need to work together to get replacement infrastructure in place to keep the islands alive for generations to come.”

People can donate online to the Yell and Unst tunnel group fundraiser here.

The SIC’s wish is to see tunnels to Yell, Unst, Whalsay and Bressay – the four busiest ferry routes.

The council is also pointing to the fact that Unst is set to host the nationally important SaxaVord Spaceport.

The local authority is keen to engage both the UK and Scottish governments on the prospect of funding fixed links, which is a key issue.

The cost of the £700,000 strategy will be funded from the council’s annual allocations from the distribution of net revenues from Crown Estate assets.

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