By JIM TAIT
Bressay residents are said to be worried over the future of the isle’s ferry service and the dropping in priority of the tunnel project on the SIC’s capital programme.
The issue was raised this week by councillor Caroline Miller, after first declaring an interest as a Bressay landowner herself.
She told Monday’s meeting of ZetTrans that she was disappointed the tunnel was no longer high on the capital plan, especially with the ferry Leirna and the terminals at Bressay and Lerwick coming to the end of their lifespan.
The fact that the Whalsay terminal replacement programme and the new Anderson High School were more pressing was not an issue, Mrs Miller said, but the Bressay folk needed to know what lay ahead.
The tunnel should be in the “spend to save” category, she stressed. It had to be ready to go, say in 2017, as if everything came together by that time the link would be in place.
Mrs Miller said a study had shown that Bressay residents used their ferry more times than any other island.
“We have no doctor, no health centre, no leisure centre … When are you going to bring forward some sort of relief for this island? We need to make things more favourable for the Bressay folk.”
Chairman Allan Wishart said the council faced “a conundrum in the long term” in terms of fares and funding of ferry services.
SIC head of transport Michael Craigie said he took the point about the Leirna. The situation regarding the ferry was in the Stag (Scottish Transport Appraisal Guidance) study but maybe some details could be taken out.
“We hope to have a report about fare structures available before the end of the summer,” he added.
Mrs Miller asked how the council was going to relay that information back to the Bressay people.
“[The tunnel] is not in the capital programme, and the next information they might be faced with is a fare increase in April,” she said. “It might just be a couple of pence for some people but for others it could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”
Mr Craigie said it was intended to hold a meeting in Bressay before the end of March, which would deliver whatever message the council had decided on.
Meanwhile, both internal and external transport issues were due to be aired at a seminar at Isleburgh in Lerwick yesterday afternoon.
The issue of extra bunks on NorthLink ferries, the overall satisfaction with the service, and the progress of the Scottish Government’s ferries review were among the topics up for discussion.
A solution to the shortage of accommodation during peak periods looked possible last November when NorthLink suggested turning the reclining seat areas on the ships into dormitories of 32 “couchettes”. But last month the company did a U-turn and abandoned the idea, saying the remaining three years left on the contract would not bring in enough revenue to make the plan cost-effective.
Shetland tourist office manager Andy Steven said a recent claim that 95 per cent of people were able to travel south on their preferred date was misleading, as the figures were based on the whole year and not peak times.
As far as the government’s ferries review goes, SIC transport manager Ken Duerden was to tell the meeting it was now moving forwards quite rapidly.
Chairman Allan Wishart said yesterday’s seminar would be a valuable opportunity for everyone involved with Shetland’s “lifeline links” to have their say.