The new £10 million Whalsay ferry terminal is set to be built within the existing congested harbour at Symbister after a U-turn by the isle’s councillor Josie Simpson, previously a supporter of an entirely new harbour at the North Voe.
The issue which has swung it for Shetland Islands Council’s vice-convener is the detrimental effect of moving activity away from the traditional harbour area, which is at the heart of the Whalsay community and contains the boating club, a shop and soon a cafe and visitor centre.
Mr Simpson told the infrastructure committee on Tuesday: “The hub of Whalsay is in Symbister – everything happens there.” He admitted his change of opinion had been a very difficult decision. “This is one I can’t win on,” he said. “The island is very, very split on this.”
If Mr Simpson’s new preference is not overturned at the next meeting of the full council, which seems highly unlikely, it will mean the SIC has completely changed its policy agreed in June last year.
It will also have gone against the conclusions of the intensive and prolonged research and consultation exercise, the so-called STAG study, which came out in favour of North Voe.
A fresh review this summer concluded that the North Voe plan was still the best because it is considered easier and less risky.
SIC transport manager Michael Craigie said it had been a close matter making a judgment in favour of North Voe. He admitted that opting for Symbister would be “more faithful to the culture and heritage of the island”.
Mr Simpson said he had been all for the North Voe harbour a few years ago after being told bluntly that the existing harbour could not accommodate the improvements required to fit a new super-ferry about twice the size of the existing Linga, carrying about 31 cars. Now it had been shown that the room could be found by dredging up to the beach so the small boat marina can be moved away from the terminal.
A sheet-pile pier would be built to separate the ferries from the marina and protect the small boats from the motion and other dangers of being too close to the ferries, which, according to Mr Simpson, they are at the moment and could lead to a disaster.
The new harbour arrangement would also provide more tie-up berths for the Whalsay ferries and the Skerries ferry, freeing up three extra berths for the whitefish fleet which has been squeezed out of berthing space over the years.
There was no vote against Mr Simpson, although councillor Jonathan Wills said the council’s officials had obviously looked very closely at the issues before recommending the North Voe. While he had no personal preference he decided to try to test the feeling of the meeting by proposing North Voe. He told the committee: “I hear what Josie has said but I also read what the officers say.” He failed to get a seconder.
Councillor Laura Baisley could not resist a dig, saying: “I am delighted Dr Wills sometimes does agree with what officials say.”
Councillor Robert Henderson said the SIC was throwing good money after bad in its attempts to patch up the existing Whalsay terminals rather than get on with more permanent cures for the problems. He said Whalsay’s fishing fleet was one of the biggest contributors to the Shetland economy and the council should support the community. “We have to do this fast rather than slow.”