More than 100 people packed into Symbister hall for a public meeting on the siting of Whalsay’s new ferry terminal on Thursday night – and came down broadly in favour of North Voe.
The meeting marked the culmination of a day-long series of events designed to gauge public feeling on the issue, which has divided the community. The alternative to a new terminal at North Voe is to upgrade the existing terminal in the busy Symbister harbour.
The meeting was chaired by environmental health chief Maggie Dunne with executive director of infrastructure Gordon Greenhill, transport boss Michael Craigie, chairwoman of the council’s infrastructure services committee Iris Hawkins and her vice chairman Allan Wishart there to listen.
Those attending were split into workshops, each with a council facilitator. Their views where then shared with the hall.
Alison Simpson said the position of the breakwater for the North Voe still left the mouth of the voe exposed to the weather from all directions, which raised questions of safety.
“If it is found that more breakwater needs constructing, would the council be willing to pay out for the millions?” she asked.
In reply, Mr Craigie said tank tests had shown that North Voe would not be affected by a north west wind and stressed a commitment to sustaining rural communities which meant bigger ferries.
Ferry men who make 12-13,000 entrances and exits to and from Symbister every year were very much in favour of North Voe, saying that when Yell ferry men had been asked to take a larger ferry into Symbister they had refused to do so because the narrow entrance was deemed unsafe.
Councillor Laura Baisley said: “The environmental case [against North Voe] has been over-stated. I spend a lot of time waiting at Toft and see a lot of otters, seals and waders. I don’t think a ferry terminal damages the environment.”
Maureen Stewart said: “Although I can see both positions, as a daily commuter it is logical to go to North Voe.”
The status quo, it emerged at the meeting, is not an option and the urgency of the situation was stressed.
The creaking infrastructure on the mainland as well as at Symbister is overdue for replacement, having been built for boats smaller than the Hendra and the Linga.
Now, as Mr Craigie explained, Euroepan regualtions dictate that a ferry working in open water such as the Whalsay one would have to be approximately 60m long, roughly the size of the Yell Sound ferries.
Any new ferry service has to be “reliable, safe and affordable for commuters which would sustain the community in the long term”. It must have greater capacity and be able to operate in worse weather than the current vesels.