By ROSALIND GRIFFITHS
THE TRANSPORT partnership ZetTrans is to explore the possibility of a single-lane tunnel controlled by traffic lights between Yell and Unst, it emerged at a meeting of the body on Monday.
Members heard that a STAG (Scottish Transport Appraisal Guidance) report on Bluemull Sound recently commissioned by ZetTrans found that a single lane tunnel would be significantly cheaper than a two-lane tunnel.
Improvement to transport links between the mainland and Bressay and the mainland and Whalsay were also high on the agenda. ZetTrans head Michael Craigie said that more detailed work on a tunnel to Bressay, a new ferry and terminal for Whalsay as well as into the suggested single bore single-lane tunnel in Bluemull Sound would be done in the next few months. Chairman Allan Wishart said all three island links were equally important. One island could not be put before another and all needs had to be analysed.
Councillor Josie Simpson, recently appointed chair of the Fetlar Development Group, said that all Shetland’s transport ambitions, which include a breakwater for Fetlar, would cost £100 million. He said he did not know what funding would be available, not only for the Bluemull link but for all links, and this made it a “catch 22” situation.
But whatever happened in Bluemull, he said, a breakwater in Fetlar with a ferry based there would “play a big part” in the future of the island. This has been a long-held aspiration of the islanders and is seen as crucial to the regeneration of the island.
Mr Wishart said a decision would have to be made about the overall best solution and then look at the funding. He said after all the work that had already been done it was important not to “tumble” into a decision that was not the best one.
ZetTrans is to have a meeting with the Scottish transport minister on Monday to examine the options. There is concern, however, that reorganisation of public finance by the Scottish government may mean that whereas big national projects such as the Forth crossing would attract funding, medium-sized projects such as fixed links would not.
Chief executive of Lerwick Port Authority Sandra Laurenson said that “one clear winner” had emerged from the Bressay STAG study which, together with the Whalsay STAG, had been completed earlier in the year. A tunnel to Bressay was “so plainly” the solution, she said, and she was sure the government would be able to see that.
The Bluemull Sound STAG study was done in the summer.
It examined ways of improving inter-island connections with every variation from the cheapest to the most expensive being considered.
The minimum that could be done would be to replace the Gutcher and Belmont terminals and the two ferries that run on the route, the Bigga and the Geira. The ro-ro ferries and terminals were built in the 1970s and are now reaching the end of their economic life.
The next-cheapest option included a breakwater for Fetlar, which the study recognised as a catalyst for Fetlar’s social and economic regeneration. This option emerged as the most favourable of all the permutations considered. The most expensive option involved the development of a fixed link tunnel between Unst and Yell, in addition to a dedicated Fetlar ferry service, operated by three crews running from Fetlar to either an upgraded terminal at Belmont or Gutcher. This option would also include a breakwater at Fetlar.
The study said that further work would be needed to examine the viability and engineering feasibility of a tunnel between Unst and Yell. This should not delay work on the Fetlar breakwater, however.