The council is to delay its decision on where to build a new £10 million ferry terminal in Whalsay. It followed a plea during this week’s Full Council meeting for more consultation with members of the community.
Vice convener and Whalsay member Josie Simpson had persuaded members of the infrastructure committee to opt for the harbour at Symbister despite a recommendation from officials that a new terminal be built at the North Voe instead.
It has become clear since that islanders are sharply divided on the issue and North Isles member Laura Baisley suggested at Wednesdsay’s meeting that the decision be put off while more views are sought. She also suggested that consideration be given to holding a referendum.
Ms Baisley’s call came after a hastily arranged meeting of the Whalsay Community Council last Thursday night, where it was deemed further consultation was needed before a final decision could be made.
Speaking at Wednesday’s meeting she said: “What I wish to do is ask for this decision to be deferred for one cycle in order to allow a period of consultation with the community to take place.”
Her call was backed by councillor Allan Wishart, who said many questions had emerged from people in Whalsay over recent weeks. “A lot of those questions could be answered if there was a meeting with relevant transport officers there,” he said.
Councillor Jonathan Wills said he had tried unsuccesfully to bring the subject up for debate at a previous meeting, particularly as building at Symbister would go against the conclusion of the STAG consultation study. “I’m in favour of what Laura is suggesting. Any referendum should be consultative,” he said.
Alistair Cooper was less than impressed with the idea of a referendum, adding that was the wrong way to consult with the public. “That’s not the way this council should be conducting its business. We should listen to the folk and the decision should be made in chamber,” he said.
His opposition to giving people a vote on the issue was supported by Bill Manson. “Where do we go if it turns out 50/50? What guidance does it give us? We still have a decision to make,” he said.
Iris Hawkins said she would be all for a referendum “if it can help folk have their say”.
However having let the cat out of the bag, Ms Baisley was anxious to put it back in again, insisting it should only be looked at as an option.
“Michael Craigie [of transport partnership ZetTrans] has been involved in the STAG process and he feels there is an opportunity to get a consensus now people realise we are this close to making a decision,” she said.
The outcome of the meeting was welcomed by former ferry skipper Peter Walker Anderson, who is opposed to the idea of building at Symbister.
He said there had been insufficient consultation with the community, although he stopped short of criticising Mr Simpson, who has been under attack in recent weeks for backing Symbister.
“I’m no saying anything against what Josie’s decision was based on. His decision was based on a meeting held during the summer holidays when a big percentage of the population was away,” he said.
“Ever since the council decision at the infrastructure meeting was announced my phone has been ringing steady from folk. They are speaking to us, because we were on the working group, wondering what was going on.
“We were all still assuming it was going at North Voe. I hope when they have this meeting it will explain everything to folk.”
Mr Walker said he had requested one of the Yell Sound ferries come to Symbister to show how unsuitable the larger ferries would be for the smaller entrance to Symbister.
“We were told it would be far too dangerous,” he said. “I used to work on the ferry, and I personally know that if they come with this huge ferry with a very small harbour, then the ferry will be tied up at anything more than a force six.”
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Simpson said he had heard from people in favour of Symbister, but said he would now wait and let the consultation period take its course.
“I made a decision that seemed to be the best option and when we looked overall, as far as harbour users were concerned, the south voe was the best choice,” he said.
“After the public meeting in Whalsay last week they were asking for more consultation and I could not deny them that. It will just have to take its course, but I’m not convinced there is going to be a clear majority one way or the other.”