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Transport / Inter-island transport network ‘maxed out’

Bluemull ferry Bigga approaching the Belmont ferry terminal. Photo Shetland News

SHETLAND’s inter-island transport network is “maxed out”, a meeting heard on Monday.

ZetTrans lead officer Michael Craigie said the inter-island network has “reached as much as it can achieve” with the frequency of sailings and the length of the operating day.

It comes after Shetland Islands Council last year approved the creation of an inter-island transport connectivity strategy, which will review routes and give consideration to fixed links.

Shetland’s islands are serviced mainly by council-run ferries, while Fair Isle and Foula also have flights.

But Craigie acknowledged there are “barriers” such as the constraints of journey times and timetables.

“There’s no doubt that we’re observing depopulation,” he said. “At the core of it one of the reasons that’s given is that barrier that exists both in terms of time taken, having to work around timetables and vessels getting less reliable.”

The council’s ferries are ageing, leading to more maintenance being needed, and the local authority has spoken up for the idea of tunnels on the busier inter-island routes.

There have also been recruitment difficulties for jobs on the ferries.

Campaigners in favour of tunnels to islands like Yell, Unst and Whalsay say they could potentially help to stem depopulation by improving access.

Craigie was responding after Shetland West member Liz Peterson brought up the issue of rural depopulation, saying some folk had moved to a more central location like Lerwick due to the location of their work as they do not have access to transport at the right time.

The transport chief also said there is work ongoing at the University of Aberdeen looking at rural and island depopulation, which Shetland is engaged with.

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