22nd April 2018
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Caithness ferry idea backed by isles businessman

The Pentland Ferries vessel Pentalina arrives in St Margarets Hope, South Ronaldsay. Photo: Tom O’Brien/courtesy of the Orcadian

A ferry route between Shetland and the north of Scotland would be “a great thing”, according to an isles businessman.

A seven-hour link to Caithness is being considered by Pentland Ferries boss Andrew Banks.

One of the earliest backers of the idea, which emerged late last year, was Andrew Nicolson, joint owner of haulage firm JA and GD Nicolson.

He said: “I think they should have a good look at it because there’s a lot of businesses in the north of Scotland and Orkney and Shetland that would benefit greatly.”

The service would be operated by Pentland Ferries’ catamaran the Pentalina, which up to now has sailed the Gills Bay to Orkney route.

However, with the Pentalina due to be replaced by a newer model, she will soon be available for other purposes.

Andrew Nicolson: “I think they should have a good look at it because there’s a lot of businesses in the north of Scotland and Orkney and Shetland that would benefit greatly.”

Mr Nicolson is a long-time friend of Gordon Shearer, vice-chairman of Gills Harbour Ltd. He told Mr Shearer he would like to see the Pentalina used for crossings from Gills Bay to Shetland.

The suggestion was then relayed to a meeting of Gills Harbour Ltd, triggering animated discussions and, later, an approach to Mr Banks.

Mr Banks indicated he was open to the proposal last year – but said it would probably only go ahead if funding were received from Transport Scotland. Mr Nicolson, meanwhile, believes the link to Caithness is a “much-needed route”.

Part of the reason for that, he says, is because of the pressure put on the NorthLink vessels during the tourist season.

“I think to open up another part of Scotland to Orkney and Shetland would be a great thing. In this day and age, if you’re looking to encourage things to happen you have to look at every available avenue,” he said.

From a business point of view, Mr Nicolson feels the service would give isles companies access to more suppliers and customers.

“It would be a shame for this opportunity to be missed. If they miss this opportunity and the ship [the Pentalina] is sold then that’s that – it’s no longer
an option,” he said, adding that he would favour a pilot period of up to two years or so to see if the service is viable.

Mr Banks of Pentland Ferries said there has been no progress on the idea since he last spoke to The Shetland Times last year.

“Nobody from the government has contacted us about it,” he said. “It’s up to them to decide if there’s a future [for the idea]. That’s something they should be looking at now through the STAG [Scottish Transport Appraisal Guidance].”

About Andrew McQuarrie

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