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Marine / SIC requests time extension on government Fair Isle ferry funding

The Good Shepherd IV, which is more than 30 years old and sails between the isle and Grutness, is described as no longer fit for purpose.

SHETLAND Islands Council (SIC) has requested an extension to the deadline for when UK Government funding needs to be used for the new Fair Isle ferry project – all while estimated costs continue to rise.

The project estimates were £40 million to £45 million back in January this year but it has risen since.

The amount of money on offer from the UK Government’s Levelling Up fund stands at just under £27 million, and with the SIC needing to cover the rest the local authority faces a potentially significant spend.

The funding comes with a deadline of spring 2026 but development director Neil Grant confirmed that the council has formally requested this be extended.

On Wednesday the SIC confirmed that it plans to re-tender work for the ferry and associated harbour upgrades in Grutness and Fair Isle, with a hope to achieve better value than indicated in current estimates.

With an aim to only start work next spring then the project faces being a year behind the original schedule.

In January it was also confirmed that the new ferry would no longer be fully ‘ro-ro’ amid the rising cost of the project.

Chairman of the Fair Isle Community Association David Parnaby said the feeling among residents is that they would prefer the right outcome even if it meant a delay.

“Overall, I would say that the community’s main priority is getting not just a new vessel, but the right vessel to suit the needs of the Isle,” he said.

“Obviously, we would prefer it sooner rather than later, but we recognise the difficulties facing the project, and I think it’s fair to say that everyone would rather we got the right outcome, even if that does result in a delay.

“The ferry is a vital lifeline for the Isle and it is so important that the key requirements identified by the community are met.

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“We know that everyone involved in the project has been working very hard to keep the project moving forward and we’ve been kept up to date with the progress of the project at every stage.

“The Isle committee is very grateful to SIC for their effective and open communication, which enables the community to remain engaged with the project.

“That engagement is vitally important and we hope, as we enter this crucial stage, that the experience and skills of the relevant islanders are utilised to ensure the project delivers a ferry that will serve Fair Isle well for many years to come.”

Back when the SIC was bidding for Levelling Up funding a few years ago it was suggested that the council contribution to the entire project could stand to be £2.8 million, making for an overall project estimate of around £30 million.

The SIC said since then though construction estimates have risen, “as a result of economic and geopolitical issues”, while there are also pressures on the local construction workforce and supply chain, which also contribute to the increased costs.

It comes at a time when the council is already spending unsustainably from its reserves.

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