CAPITAL projects designed to help improve Shetland’s transport network should be given as much priority by government as similar schemes on the mainland.
That was the message transport minister Stewart Stevenson heard when he met ZetTrans head Allan Wishart on Monday.
Mr Wishart travelled to Edinburgh to discuss the roles transport partnerships can play in future government policy.
But Mr Wishart said he heard worrying noises about future funding for major projects.
Transport projects are becoming something of a priority in Shetland.
Last week ZetTrans chiefs agreed to explore the possibility of a single-lane tunnel between Yell and Unst, following the release of a Stag (Scottish Transport Appraisal Guidance) report on possible options to cross the Bluemull Sound.
Fears have been voiced that reorganisation of public finances by the Scottish government could cast doubt on some of Shetland’s projects question while major initiatives in the central belt are given the nod.
“The government and Cosla is very supportive of the regional transport partnerships, which were established by the last government,” said Mr Wishart.
“We spoke to Stewart Stevenson about funding for capital projects, and the replacement of ferries and ferry terminals.
“Orkney is looking at the same issues, as well as the Western Isles, and there’s also the whole thing about fuel costs and so on. Every time we asked for capital funding the answer was, ‘there’s no money’.
“What we say is, that’s okay, but how are you funding projects like the new Forth crossing and Edinburgh tram system? We have equally important projects locally.”
Part of the reason for the apparent disarray could be down to Nationalist policy designed to replace the established funding mechanism for major projects across Scotland.
The meeting came in the middle of plans to ditch the private finance initiative (PFI), in favour of the new Scottish Futures Trust (SFT).
First Minister Alex Salmond was criticised for his idea to approach Middle Eastern sovereign wealth funds in the hope of gaining finance for major building schemes, like the new Forth bridge.
The First Minister is due to visit the oil-rich Gulf state of Qatar next year and will explore whether funding there can help SFT.
Mr Wishart said he saw SFT as another form of private/public partnership, but added the government could not afford to let its popularity slide over the new policy.
“There is an understanding in government that if we don’t resolve this it won’t end up in the SNP’s favour. There’s an equally strong desire from government to get funding.”
Adding that dialogue was “always encouraging” he said the meeting had been useful in forging links with other partnerships.
“ZetTrans agreed we should invite the chair of Hitrans (transport authority for the Highlands and Islands) to our next meeting to explore common issues.”