Sumburgh Airport operator Highlands and Islands Airports (HIAL) has been criticised for its lack of communication concerning proposals to introduce car parking charges.
At a meeting of the Sumburgh Airport Consultative Committee (SACC) on Tuesday, chairman Jimmy Smith said the committee was “not happy” with the plans.
In particular, he criticised the “tight timescale” which had been set for consultation, although this has now been extended until 18th April, and pointed out the “significant resentment” that members had only heard of the proposals through the local media.
In a letter to HIAL’s managing director Inglis Lyon, Mr Smith raised a number of the issues he felt had not yet been dealt with, such as the impact of charges on the airport’s staff, and the fact that public transport is not a viable option for many islanders living in rural areas.
Mr Smith said: “I pointed out that the committee is not happy. I pointed out that other than the meeting Tavish Scott organised, no other bodies have been consulted. I pointed out that there has been no study carried out on the car park usage – they claim this will make £100,000 but there has been no study on how many go through the car park.”
He added: “I would encourage members of the committee to add any concerns, especially now that the consultative period has been extended.”
In his reply Mr Lyons apologised for the failure to announce the proposals to the committee directly, and dealt with some of the issues raised.
However his response failed to reassure the committee, which is to continue to oppose the plans, which SACC member and Shetland South councillor Allison Duncan called “deplorable”.
Mr Smith also raised the issue that the service in Sumburgh is a lifeline service, but received “no reply” about this issue.
Isles MSP Tavish Scott, who was present at the meeting, echoed the concerns raised by Mr Smith and in a letter to HIAL chairman Grenville Johnston this week argued that the charges would represent a “tax on island life”.
Mr Scott wrote: “I object to the proposal in principle, my reasons being exactly the same as the ones I used when, as transport minister, I vetoed an earlier HIAL proposal to introduce the charges.”
He argued that despite reductions under the Air Discount Scheme, the cost of flights remains high. Sumburgh’s flights represent a lifeline for the isles and there should be no further costs added.
He also critisiced HIAL’s decision to limit the consultation to the Sumburgh Airport Consultative Committee, and urged members of the public to voice their concerns: “HIAL have tried to keep the consultation low-key, putting the responsibility to consult onto the Sumburgh Airport Consultative Committee.
“But that does not mean that people who object to the plan can’t make their views known. I would encourage anyone who shares my concerns to make their views known to HIAL. They can write to the chief executive, Inglis Lyon, at Inverness Airport or they can email him at ILyon@hial.co.uk.”