Seminar puts fixed links back on SIC agenda

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A seminar is to be held this summer for councillors to look at the viability of creating fixed links in the isles.

Maggie Sandison, director of the SIC’s infrastructure services, said the meeting would be held in August.

It will pull together information collected about fixed links, including socio-economic reports, and consideration of the impact on the wider infrastructure.

The seminar was discussed at a meeting of the council’s environment and transport committee on Monday.

Mrs Sandison said socio-economic studies carried out over the last five years would be revisited and brought up to date – looking at what effect fixed links would have, for example loss of ferry jobs or the possibility of losing a local shop, and the impact on things like retained fire services, or GP services.

Information about inter-island ferry services – such as the age of the ferries, when ferries would need to be replaced, and costs would also be brought to the seminar, to detail what the council would need to spend if nothing was going to change.

The plan for a seminar was explained after a number of councillors expressed their disappointment about the lack of progress being made over the fixed links issue.

Councillor Robert Henderson said he was “very annoyed” that fixed links were being delayed and said Norwegian investors, who are able to support the building of tunnels through affordable finance, were being “slapped in the face” by the council.

Robert Henderson: "Very annoyed" at delays over fixed links.

Robert Henderson: “Very annoyed” at delays over fixed links.

Mr Henderson said he wanted an invitation made to Norwegian experts.

He was told the council would explore these opportunities and look at an invitation to the Norwegians.

Mr Henderson said he wanted an invitation this summer and did not want “to wait another year”.

Political leader Gary Robinson said it did not appear that “swift progress” was being made. But he warned the council needed to be “extremely careful” in how it did progress. It would need to ensure “due diligence is done” and that there was no circumvention of procurement rules.

“We can’t just invite them [the Norwegians] to do some work for us,” he said.

Mr Robinson added information collected over the years needed to be pulled together, and anything that could be done to speed up the process needed to be carried out.

Mr Henderson called for a reconstitution of a fixed links working group, however concerns were raised by council legal chief Jan Riise about its formation to members.

Afterwards Mr Henderson said he felt the fixed link issue had been “put on the back burner” and it had “not gotten the profile I would like to see it getting”.

“I think at least with a seminar you are getting it into the open and getting a bit of discussion on it,” said Mr Henderson.

He said it would cost £60 million for a tunnel to be built to Whalsay, which he said was the first island in need of fixed links. It would cost £250,000 per annum to maintain a tunnel, he added.

This was compared to just under £4 million a year for the Whalsay ferry service and more than £4.5 million per year for the Yell service, said Mr Henderson.

Members at the meeting were also given a rundown of the committee’s management accounts, as a draft outturn for the final quarter of 2013/14.

The outturn position for services under the committee’s remit is an underspend of £1.360 million on revenue, an additional surplus of £128,000 on the trading accounts and an underspend of £521,000 on capital projects against approved budgets.

As part of the revenue savings, members were told there is a £527,000 underspend in ferry services.

This relates mainly to:

<b>•</b> An underspend across all vessel maintenance of £250,000, underspending of £231,000 for ferry terminal maintenance, unable to be completed within the year due to staffing changes.

• Underspending on ferry fuel due to a change of supplier, reduced fuel prices and timetable changes £146,000, and a reduction in vessel and plant insurance of £109,000.

This is offset by a reduction in ferry fare income due to increased fares and reduction in frequency and capacity of sailings (£182,000).

As regards to capital outturn there is a £184,000 underspend in ferry services. This relates mainly to life extension works on the <i>Leirna</i> ferry coming in under budget – £145,000 and delays on the ferry ticketing machines project, £28,000.

The council’s infrastructure services has asked for £200,000 of the £1.36 million underspend to be carried forward into this financial year. This will be used to cover the cost of project delays, and for things such as the backlog of street light replacements.

Infrastructure services has also asked for £295,000 of the £521,000 capital underspend to be carried forward in 2014/15.

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4 comments

  1. John Tulloch

    This is a welcome step forward and if well-prepared it should provide clarity on potential costs and benefits of fixed links.

    “Due diligence” is of course, important if the SIC is to invest such large sums, however, Robert Henderson is right to thump the table about fixed links which have the potential to breathe life into the isles communities while also saving money and in albeit mitigating circumstances, progress to date has been glacial.

    Given the likely intangible benfits, if Mr Henderson’s estimates are accurate, it sounds like a ‘go-er’ on the maintenance costs alone, never mind with capital savings on new ferries and the possibility of grant assistance from government and the EU.

    Reply
  2. Paul Moar

    Excellent news and I hope definate progress is made. Personally, I would support the tunnel option over bridges due to Shetland’s stormy climate.

    Any “reservations” I had about tunnels(fixed links) in favour of ferries vanished immediately after my holidays to both Norway and Faroe. Having seen how tunnels improve travel beyond measure it left me feeling there’s really no argument.

    This is a particularly impressive tunnel proposed in Faroe with others also in the pipeline.

    http://aktuelt.fo/tad+almenna+og+privat+skulu+eiga+nyggja+tunnilsfelagid.html

    Reply
  3. ian tinkler

    Here we go again, anyone else go a feeling of Déjà Vu?. How many millions this time?

    Reply
  4. David Lister

    I look forward to reading the plot of the sequel to Brewsters Millions, where this time a council has to burn through 30m without anything to show for it.
    On a side note, if I’m reading this right, I love that reductions to the timetable (amongst other things) saved 146k, whereas in the same breath the reduction to the timetable (and increase in fares) cost 182k in lost income – Does anyone have a calculator, and isn’t an increase in fares supposed to increase income. It is this short sighted ‘strategic planning’ that is going to shut all the schools, and destroy the future for the islands (by which time we won’t need any links to the deserted isles).

    Reply

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