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Council / SIC holds ‘positive’ meeting with Scottish secretary – but leader keen to see action

Tunnels, the ‘Shetland tariff’ and broadband were discussed at Tuesday’s meeting in London

Scottish secretary Alister Jack. Photo: UK Parliament

TUNNELS, reducing energy bills and digital connectivity were on the agenda this morning (Tuesday) at a meeting in London between council leaders and the UK Government’s Scottish Secretary Alister Jack.

Jack said afterwards that he has asked his top civil servant “to lead cross government talks on the best ways to take these projects forward”.

Shetland Islands Council (SIC) leader Emma Macdonald said there needs to be collaboration between both the UK and Scottish governments – and suggested the isles can be a “testbed for looking at doing things differently”.

The meeting had been plugged by the council in September as a step forward in the planning for possible tunnels as replacements for some of Shetland’s ageing inter-island ferries.

In particular the council said the UK Government could be a possible funding avenue for tunnels to Yell and Unst, given that a nationally important spaceport has been under construction in the North Isles.

Macdonald suggested there is the opportunity to explore innovative ways of finding a solution, with proposed funding mechanisms discussed by the SIC.

But she stressed “we can’t just keep talking about it”.

“We need to get dates in the diary to move forward at pace, because we’ve been talking about this for a long time in Shetland,” Macdonald said.

She added: “What we’re seeing through discussions with UK Government is there is a potential that it could be a reality.

Alister Jack MP (right) today met with Shetland Islands Council representatives – (from left) Maggie Sandison, Moraig Lyall and Emma Macdonald.

“People are not going ‘that’s not going to happen’, they are starting to look at it and go ‘how could that happen, how could we help deliver that’?

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“Our approach is that we know Shetland has got lots of opportunities. We want to be able to deliver on them, but we need a little bit of support to unpick some things to help things come together better.”

But the Shetland North councillor said it is not just a case of asking for more funding.

“It’s about unpicking some legislation that don’t allow certain things to happen,” Macdonald added.

The desire for cheaper energy bills is highlighted through the ‘Shetland tariff’ idea, which revolves around the fact that the isles are set to become a net exporter of energy once the Viking Energy wind farm goes live in 2024 – with more renewable projects also in the pipeline.

The digital connectivity issue stems from the Scottish Government’s R100 superfast broadband scheme not being able to reach every property in Shetland.

With regards to tunnels, the council leader said: “People recognise that somewhere has to be the first place to build a tunnel in the UK, and why can’t it be us?”

“This isn’t going to be delivered by the council, it’s not going to be delivered by the UK Government – it needs to be delivered by all partners around the table, trying to find solutions that work best for Shetland.”

Jack, meanwhile, said in a statement: “I had a very interesting meeting with Emma Macdonald, [SIC environment and transport committee chair] Moraig Lyall and [SIC chief executive] Maggie Sandison this morning to discuss their plans on short crossings between islands, reducing islanders’ energy bills and on improving broadband.

“I have asked my top civil servant to lead cross government talks on the best ways to take these projects forward. I also hope to schedule a visit to Shetland in the near future.”

It follows a meeting of the UK Government’s island forum earlier this month, at which connectivity was a key theme.

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