Tuesday 23 April 2024
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Transport / Plenty to learn from Faroe, say tunnel group after fact-finding trip

Vehicles waiting at the entrance of a single-lane tunnel with height restriction sign.

THE YELL and Unst tunnel action groups say they have returned to Shetland with “extensive information and inspiration” following a fact-finding trip to Faroe.

The delegation had presentations and discussions on the construction, funding and evaluation of the islands’ tunnel projects, as well as the initial investigations required.

It comes as the two groups continue to fundraise for initial studies into possible tunnels to Yell and Unst.

Faroe has long been regarded as something of a blueprint of how tunnels can be done in an island community.

Joint chair of Unst Tunnel Action Group Alice Mathewson said: “The key to any tunnelling project is mapping out the geology.

“This is something which came through very strongly from our discussions in Faroe. Geotechnical investigations form a major part of the initial investigations we are currently seeking to fund.

“This has not been part of any previous or current initiatives, but is essential to both reduce risk and provide realistic costings for a tunnelling project.

“The ability to access the learnings, skills, and expertise that Faroe has built up over the last 60 years is invaluable and demonstrates exactly what can be achieved in Shetland.

“With the Sandoy tunnel due to open in December 2023, the community’s experience was of particular interest to us.”

Mathewson said it was “reassuring” to hear that the positives of tunnels “greatly outweighed any potential drawbacks”.

“We were delighted to hear that the community in Sandoy are already starting work on 44 houses which will be made available for new residents, as well as a new kindergarten,” she added.

“It was a privilege to be granted permission to travel through the Sandoy tunnel, ahead of its opening later this year.

“The difference it will make to the island is incredible, and whilst we are delighted for the island of Sandoy, we are also slightly jealous!”

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Joint chair of Unst Tunnel Action Group, Duncan Gray, said the delegation travelled through all but one tunnel in Faroe, including all four sub-sea links.

“It was so interesting and informative to speak to island residents about the impact tunnels have had on their communities, stemming depopulation, strengthening rural businesses including shops, and providing unrestricted travel across communities for both work and social activity,” he added.

“We would encourage anyone with an interest in sub-sea tunnelling either locally or nationally to follow in our footsteps and visit Faroe to see what can and has been achieved through permanently linking islands with tunnel infrastructure.

“We will certainly be maintaining contact with all those we met, and hope to make more trips to the islands in the future.”

Based on their experience in Faroe and the knowledge they gained there, the groups will now formulate a report on their findings.

This will focus on a range of issues, including geology, finance and construction, as well as the impacts and outcomes experienced by communities and islands in Faroe.

It is expected that the report will be completed in the next few weeks and will be made available to all interested and relevant parties.

The groups also said they were very grateful to all those they met for the “superb hospitality and comprehensive information”.

The funding of tunnels is a key unanswered question, with the UK Government pinpointed as a possible source for tunnels for Yell and Unst.

Speaking after the latest meeting of the UK Government’s islands forum this week, levelling up secretary Michael Gove hinted that there could be flexibility in the budget for fixed links.

He said it was important to scope out costs, but stressed the government needs to balance the needs of Shetland with the needs of other island groups.

Meanwhile back home the two tunnel groups’ trip coincided with the Yell Sound ferry service being disrupted last week, and the Bluemull Sound service similarly going to one vessel for much of this week.

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