Council officials were out in force in Whalsay on Thursday to listen to the public’s views on where a new ferry terminal for the isle should be sited.
It was part of a day-long excercise to gauge feeling on the controversial issue in the isle which included a visit by councillors and was due to culminate in a public meeting in Symbister at night.
The decision on whether to stay in the present cultural and historical hub of Symbister or move to the pristine environment of nearby North Voe is contentious and no action will be taken without full consultation with the community, even though the STAG (Scottish Transport Appraisal Guidance) report favoured North Voe.
Head of transport Michael Craigie said the eventual decision would affect the island’s future for the next 60-75 years, and would have to be the “best fit” to accommodate the needs of the community. If necessary a consultation process would be held again, he said.
He stressed the project had “reasonable urgency” because the ferry terminals (at Laxo and Vidlin as well as Symbister) date from the 1970s and were designed for much smaller vessesls. The recent accident which the Linga collided with the Laxo pier demonstrated the “frailty” of the infrastructure, he said.
Any development would have to accommodate a larger ferry (similar to the Yell Sound ferries) and possibly two in the long term.
If the terminal were to remain in its present place in the industrial harbour of Symbister, which accommodates pelagic and whitefish as well as pleasure boats, it would necessitate building a sheet pile pier to protect the boats in the marina from the wash from the larger ferries. It would also mean filling in the historic Peerie Dock.
A move to North Voe would mean the Peerie Dock could remain, but it would involve industrialising an unspoilt area.
The cost of both options are very similar – £9.07 million for Symbister and £8.97 million for North Voe.
One of the main arguments against Symbister appears to be the narrow entrance to the harbour, where a marker and a buoy mark the navigable channel between the rock armour.
Marine superintendant Colin Reeves said that the North Voe option would offer a wider and safer entrance which vessels could go through sideways, and would not have “conflicting traffic”.
He said: “Purely from a ferries point of view operationally North Voe is a safer option.” If built, he said, Symbister could revert to what is was before the advent of the ferries – a fishing harbour (which sometimes gets crowded with nowhere to put the fishing boats). “The ferries are the interlopers. They stole berths from the whitefish boats years ago.”
One Whalsay resident who can see Symbister harbour from home said the harbour becomes very crowded especially when five or six pelagic boats come in at once. “It’s so overcrowded and the activity is getting more and more. It’s roomy at North Voe. They should leave this one [Symbister] for the fishing boats and marina users. They should do it for the future of Whalsay.”
Another Whalsay resident who works on a pelagic boat said: “North Voe is more reliable. Symbister is braaly crowded. The disruption [if the ferry terminal is built in Symbister] would be unbelievable for two or three years. We never could lie here. The marina would have to be shifted because of the dredging [to where the pelagic boats are] and the pelagic boats would probably go to Lerwick.
“They’d be packing it in at Symbister. No more development would be possible. The ones around North Voe are putting up an argument against it [a ferry terminal there]. There are very hard feelings and its a very touchy subject.”
However there are many in favour of Symbister, which is the traditional hub of the community with the shop and will soon have a visitor centre and cafe.