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Politics / Fixed links debate hears calls for government to step in to fund studies

Photo: SIC

THERE was little commitment from the Scottish Government towards delivering fixed links for island communities during a debate of the issue in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday late afternoon, other than saying that talks with local authorities were ongoing.

Several parliamentarians described the fact that local communities in Shetland have to fundraise to move their tunnel aspirations forward – namely the Yell and Unst campaign – as “disappointing”.

Both Labour’s Rhoda Grant and Douglas Ross for the Tories suggested that any preparatory studies the community is keen to commission on the suitability of tunnels should be funded by the government and not individuals and local businesses.

The members’ debate in parliament was led by isles MSP Beatrice Wishart who called on the government to listen to communities who feel they are better served by bridges and tunnels.

“Over a hundred years ago the bridge to Muckle Roe was built to address depopulation,” she said.

“I would urge the Scottish Government to emulate that foresight today. Investing in sustainable transport infrastructure like tunnels and bridges would serve communities for many decades to come and would avoid replacing ferries with shorter lifespans.”

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart. Photo: Malcolm Younger/Millgaet Media

Her views were echoed by those in the chamber participating in the debate, including MSPs representing non-island but rural communities where transport links are also in need of being upgraded.

Grant said the call for bridges and tunnels has been coming from Shetland for many years.

“It is quite sad that communities are now crowdfunding to try and make this [tunnel] a reality when government should be listening,” she said.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross commended the various local tunnel action groups on their energy and commitment towards fundraising.

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But he added: “Can I commend the groups for their current online auction, donated by businesses and local supporters. That is commendable and I wish them every success with it.

“But it is also disappointing that they have to fundraise in this way for work that I believe should be done by the Scottish Government.

“They say the fundraising will help get work going on the geotechnical investigation and the socio-economic and environmental impact. That is vital and, surely, should be done by the Scottish Government on behalf of constituents in Shetland.”

In response to the various points raised during the debate transport secretary Fiona Hyslop made the point that the internal ferry network remained the responsibility of local authorities and added that in the current financial climate it was difficult to commit to any large capital project.

She said: “The importance of resilient, reliable and affordable transport for rural and island communities is being addressed with intent and purpose.

“What this looks like and how it can best serve these communities is something this government continues to work on in close consultation with communities and action groups.

“Financial uncertainties, inflation and a 10 per cent reduction in our capital budget are the realities that we face. Funds though the levelling up funding fall short of the funding for communities through the European Union.

“I can assure members that fixed links are an important consideration as we deliver future transport solutions for our island communities.”

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