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Transport / UK Government has a ‘role to play’ in funding ferry replacements

Bluemull ferry Bigga approaching Belmont ferry terminal last month. Photo Shetland News

THE LATEST meeting of the Shetland internal ferry replacement task force took place in Edinburgh yesterday (Thursday) – with the Scottish Government acknowledging that its UK counterparts in Westminster have a role to play in the issue.

The meeting was chaired by deputy first minister Shona Robison, with the transport minister Fiona Hyslop also in attendance.

The Scottish Government described it as a “productive meeting”.

It said members agreed to “continue to work in partnership and to engage the UK Government, who have a role to play in the future funding of Shetland’s ferry replacements”.

Shetland Islands Council’s (SIC) inter-island ferry fleet is quickly ageing, and the council is supportive of the idea of the tunnels on routes to Yell, Unst, Whalsay and Bressay.

While tunnels would be long-term projects, and their potential funding is uncertain, there is still a need to look at like-for-like ferry replacements.

Earlier this year the UK Government awarded nearly £27 million of Levelling Up funding for a new Fair Isle ferry and harbour works, despite transport being a devolved matter to Scotland.

Speaking after Thursday’s meeting, Shetland Islands Council leader Emma Macdonald said it is recognised that there is a “need to work collaboratively, and that for some larger scale projects we need to work with both governments”.

SIC political leader Emma Macdonald. Photo: Shetland News

“This meeting was a part of a series of meetings and an ongoing discussion and highlights the importance of positive ongoing communication with government,” the councillor said.

Also this year councillors gave the green light to starting a £700,000 business case process evaluating Shetland’s internal transport network, with tunnels set to form part of the thinking.

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Macdonald said that as that process continues “we will see which option is suggested as the preferred option, and then obviously it will be a decision that will be made by the members with all of that information”.

The SIC leader said at the moment things are being discussed in a way that allows the council to explore all possibilities.

Deputy first minister Robison said: “I would like to thank Shetland Islands Council for an open and productive meeting today and its continued constructive engagement through the Task Force process.

“We look forward to working together to explore future engagement with the UK Government.”

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