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Politics / Government ‘very willing’ to discuss tunnels with the council, first minister says

The Eysturoyartunnilin tunnel in Faroe. Photo: Ólavur Frederiksen

FIRST minister John Swinney says the Scottish Government is “very willing” to discuss the idea of tunnels in Shetland with the council to “try to advance some of these proposals” – if there is desire from the community.

He was speaking this afternoon (Friday) – on the phone – after his morning flight to Shetland was scuppered by fog and low cloud and had to return to Edinburgh.

When asked whether the Scottish Government could facilitate subsea Shetland tunnels in any way, Swinney told Shetland News: “We’re certainly very willing to discuss these issues with Shetland Islands Council to try to advance some of these proposals if that’s the community desire to do so.”

He added that he had looking forward to an early discussion as first minister – having been sworn into the role earlier this month – with SIC leader Emma Macdonald during his planned visit to Shetland to “make the important point that I want the Scottish Government to have good collaborative discussions with local authorities to enable us to advance many of these questions and address the legitimate aspirations of communities around Scotland”.

The council is keen on tunnels as replacements for ferries to islands such as Yell, Unst and Whalsay and work continues on a new inter-island transport strategy which will explore fixed links.

First minister John Swinney.

However, a key question remains the financial aspect.

And with test activity at SaxaVord Spaceport in Unst hotting up as the facility prepares to open, there remains a feeling that the nationally important development bolsters the case for fixed links to Shetland’s North Isles.

Swinney described the spaceport venture – which recently secured a £10 million funding award from the UK Government – as “really interesting”.

“There’s great possibilities and opportunities there and I’m keen to make sure we engage constructively with all of these developments to ensure that here’s a vibrant economic future for Shetland and the varied communities within the islands,” he said.

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Swinney had been due to announce a funding package worth £5 million for the islands on his visit to Shetland, including an extra £1 million for the Island Cost Crisis Emergency Fund and £3 million to support “locally designed critical island infrastructure projects”.

He denied suggestion from some on social media that the funding news may have been a sweetener to island voters ahead of the July UK general election, which was announced only a couple of days ago.

The first minister said the announcement was part of an “ongoing policy agenda”.

“The fact that the prime minister decided to call an election rather abruptly on Wednesday is not something I’ve got any control over, but it certainly shouldn’t stop island communities being properly funded by the work of their own government, which was what I was trying to set out today,” Swinney said.

He added that he has offered himself as a first minister for “everybody in Scotland”.

“I set out on a very deliberate agenda to be out and about in Scotland, and I’ve been doing that since I became first minister,” Swinney said.

“At the earliest opportunity I wanted to visit one of our island communities. At a very personal level, our islands are precious to me. I have spent a lot of my leisure time – I’m not sure how much leisure time I’m going to have for the foreseeable future – in our island communities, and I wanted to demonstrate that by a visit to Shetland.”

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