A last-minute investigation is to be made into a tunnel for Whalsay instead of building a controversial new ferry harbour and lumbering the island with an increasingly expensive ferry service for the next 30 years.
The shock decision came at today’s [Tuesday] meeting of the infrastructure committee when councillors voted 13-5 to bring in a Scandinavian subsea-tunnelling expert to investigate the seabed as a matter of urgency and come up with an estimated cost for a tunnel, which is likely to be over £100 million.
Councillor Alastair Cooper called for a full report to be made ready by August or September, including a realistic timescale to complete the tunnel. The council is on a race against time to make a decision because the Whalsay ferry terminals are in a poor state and there needs to be either replacements or a tunnel in place within about five years.
It had been expected that the committee would vote for a new £9 million ferry harbour and terminal to be built in the undeveloped North Voe, which appears to have the majority support in the Whalsay community although there is bitter division over where best to site an improved ferry terminal.
The Whalsay-based councillor, Josie Simpson, abstained from voting after declaring that he was in an impossible position in the middle of the raging controversy. He said a tunnel was definitely the way forward but he worried that it would be too far into the future and the island simply could not wait.