Councillors vote to give pier lifeline to beleaguered Fetlar
By JOHN ROBERTSON
FETLAR could land its long-promised pier and breakwater next year as councillors respond to the community’s fear of dying out.
With the population falling to around 50, the SIC is now looking to push the long-delayed £3 million project to the top of its spending priority list from its current position at number 33. If all goes according to plan the contractor could start work next summer.
The island has been calling for a pier since the 1950s and is reckoned to be the only inhabited island in the British Isles without a safe harbour. It had expected one when the new ferry terminal was built at Hamar’s Ness several years ago but a £2m cost over-run on the new Yell Sound ferry terminals meant there was no money left for the breakwater and pier.
A big step was taken yesterday when the development committee voted to find £625,000 to plug a funding gap, despite the efforts of two Mainland members who did not see Fetlar made a special priority. The money will be used along with an expected £300,000 grant from the EU plus £2.1m from the council’s capital programme funds.
Championing Fetlar’s cause, infrastructure chairman Allan Wishart said failure to accelerate the project would send out a message that the council did not put its money where its mouth was, spending its time instead discussing verges, toilets, marinas and foys while Fetlar was denied a very basic piece of infrastructure. Development chairman Josie Simpson backed him, saying the top priority in Fetlar for getting the community back on stream was the pier and breakwater. Fetlar could not even cope with visiting yachts or small boats unless it got a breakwater and pier, he told the committee.
The crumbling old pier at Houbie is considered of little use and the ferry terminal is exposed without the shelter provided by a breakwater. According to the council report, safe access to the sea could boost residents’ confidence and allow them to begin earning part of their living from the surrounding waters. However, the main use for the pier initially is likely to be tourism-related and there has already been interest from Shetland Nature Tours. Naturally, other vocal supporters in the council chamber yesterday included fellow North Isles members Laura Baisley – who lived in Fetlar 20 years – and Robert Henderson. Mrs Baisley said the breakwater would benefit Unst too because enabling a ferry to be stationed at Fetlar in the shelter of the breakwater would lead to an improved Bluemull Sound ferry service.
Mr Henderson condemned the fact that Fetlar was the last island community with no pier and he wished the job could be done next week. “It’s a disgrace to this council that there’s been nothing done about it before.”
Even Allison Duncan of South Shetland backed it being “priority No.1” and complemented Fetlar folk on their patience.
But Lerwick member Cecil Smith tried to burst the pro-Fetlar balloon. While sympathetic, he was concerned the lack of people and houses in the island would stunt any hoped-for recovery and said not everybody in the south of England wanted to come up and sit on a croft. He was happy to agree £25,000 for the designs to be completed but then the project should take its turn along with everything else on the capital programme.
The committee was then told there are houses available in the island and convener Sandy Cluness said the council should build more because getting a pier was only the start of regenerating the island. “There are many other things to be done.”
Central member Betty Fullerton did not agree. Fetlar needed to be supported, she said, but it should not be allowed to leapfrog its way to the top of the capital programme list. If that was allowed what message would it send to those waiting for care homes and for their schools to be improved?
That irked the convener. He said the council had a good record of supporting developments for small boats, Hamnavoe having gained from one of them, he said, glaring sideways at Burra-bred Mrs Fullerton.
Mr Henderson was also annoyed. Fetlar could not afford to wait another three or four years, he said, otherwise the council might as well find ground in the Mainland to build houses on because there would be nobody left in the island. The job had to be done now.
Mr Wishart said sympathy was fine, everyone could do that, but it translated into telling people to stop living in outlying areas and move to the Mainland. Dithering and prevaricating would also send the wrong message to outside funding bodies, he said, and would compound the council’s reputation for being good at those activities. When the money was voted on he won 11-2.
The £3m proposal is made up of a £1.8m breakwater with a £1.2m pier built onto it. The pier, or berthing face, can only be done for that price if built at the same time as the breakwater and officials need to get a move on with the designs to have them ready by the deadline of December if the job is to be done next summer. First, councillors will have to agree to it being given priority over other schemes, possibly leading to some of them being delayed.
After yesterday’s approval of £625,000 there are two more hurdles to clear before the grant becomes council policy. Fresh debates will take place at the infrastructure committee on Tuesday and the Full Council on 22nd October. The ultimate decision about whether to push ahead will be made in January or February.