By ROSALIND GRIFFITHS
Residents in Papa Stour are up in arms about the state of the island’s only road and are demanding that it be rebuilt.
The islanders say it has been damaged beyond repair by heavy traffic but no agreement has been reached about who should pay for it and when the work will be done.
The ancient road, last upgraded in 1958, started to deteriorate rapidly after the advent of the new ro-ro ferry service in 2005, which brought more traffic to the isle. The residents say the road should have been upgraded at that time, but since then the council has only made minimal repairs.
Recently the ancient road has been turned to mud by heavy plant involved in installing a water filtration plant for Scottish Water in the isle, although it was already in a very poor state before work started in the autumn.
The residents say it is now “little more than a beach” with loose gravel and rocks, muddy in wet weather and dusty with lumpy rocks in a dry spell.
Long stretches of the road are now less than three metres wide. Ditching has been destroyed and vehicles have gone off the road due to the conditions, which are unsafe for drivers, walkers and cyclists.
The residents now say the road must be rebuilt to ensure it can take the weight of heavy plant such as diggers.
Before 2005 the road, although only 2.2 metres wide in places, were described as being “fit for purpose”. But knowing that the new ferry would bring heavier traffic, the community council asked for a weight restriction of 3.5 tonnes.
The restriction was imposed temporarily by the SIC roads department and the arrangement expired last summer. The council wanted to make it permanent but this was resisted by islanders who feared such a low weight restriction would very seriously impede life in the isle. They said it would put a stop to any future development as well as making it impossible to croft effectively, as a tractor weighs around five tonnes. They also feared that if the low weight restriction was agreed, no improvements would ever take place.
By the autumn of 2008 the SIC had agreed plans to start on a major road improvement scheme, although David Macnae of the roads department said it was not in this year’s capital programme and no time-frame had been set for the work.
He said the council’s “long-term” aim was to improve the road in order to take the heavier loads entering the island. But that aspiration was overtaken by events in the autumn when it became evident that Scottish Water was to start work.
In November the council’s infrastructure committee voted for a weight restriction of 7.5 tonnes with heavier vehicles, such as those working with sewerage, being exempt if they had prior approval from head of roads. The weight restriction came into force in December although by that time Scottish Water had already begun work – with an undertaking to restore the road to its previous state.
Sub-contractors working for Scottish Water moved into Papa Stour and, to the alarm of the community, started to move 1,000 tonnes of “type one” quarry chippings from the pier to the airstrip in order to make a road from the airstrip out to the water works.
Loads of at least 16 tonnes were driven daily along the road from the pier to the airstrip requiring the use of heavy plant including tractors, trailers and diggers. By the time the weight restriction came into force in December, the only road in Papa Stour had been destroyed. Scottish Water sub-contractors have attempted to make temporary repairs using quarry chippings but residents say the results have not been satisfactory.
It appears that Scottish Water has accepted responsibility for the damage and the council is determined that the organisation must pay for the repairs – which involves restoring the road to its previous (poor) state.
Mr Macnae agreed the road was not structurally able to take prolonged heavy loads and said: “We are discussing with Scottish Water how to reinstate the road to the standard in which they found it.” In his opinion it would have to be done this summer, he added.
Residents now fear this may mean only repairing the road to a standard suitable for 3.5 tonnes of weight. If that happens the roads department may ask for the present weight restriction of 7.5 tonnes to be lowered, which would be unacceptable to the community.
The islanders say the road should have been brought up to standard (similar to any other road in Shetland) with no weight restriction as soon as the ro-ro ferry came into service.
A statement from Scottish Water read: “Scottish Water is liaising with SIC roads department regarding the repair and reinstatement of the narrow single track road through Papa Stour following the completion of the island’s new water treatment works.
“The construction of this new water treatment works, at the cost of nearly a million pounds, will deliver clearer, fresher drinking water to this remote community for generations to come. It was necessary to use the road to transport construction materials and machinery from one side of the island to the other.
“We expect repair work to begin shortly, with this important drinking water improvement project nearing completion.”
Shetland West councillor Gary Robinson said: “At the end of the day the road is the council’s responsibility. The work Scottish Water has done has hastened the inevitable and [work on the road] desperately needs done.”
Over the coming tourist season several big events are planned when folk will be bringing in caravans. There will also be tour operators and minibuses but in its present state the road is unsafe for such traffic.
The original road was last resurfaced in 1958 and spray-tarred in 1970 using 30 tons of chips. The foundations were no more than six to eight inches deep, consisting of what residents described as “inferior material” obtained from two quarries in the isle.