Whalsay tunnel ‘too expensive’ for council, officials warn

A tunnel to Whalsay would be too expensive for the council and the idea should be abandoned in favour of building a new ferry terminal at North Voe, upgrading the Laxo and Vidlin terminals and buying a new, larger ferry to share the route with the Linga, according to SIC officials.

In two reports laid before councillors, head of finance Graham Johnston and head of transport Michael Craigie reveal that the basic capital cost of a fixed link would be between £76 million and £83 million, £23-28 million more than for the ferry service.

The officials also tell members they see no prospect of significant funding for a tunnel from the Scottish government while European funding “is likely to be limited to relatively small contributions if any”.

And it would take at least eight years to develop and build a tunnel, which would have to be 6.3km rather than the 5.5km first mooted, when the estimated remaining lifespan of the existing terminal at Symbister is five years.

Members of the council’s infrastructure committee will discuss the findings and the recommendations at a special meeting next Tuesday, followed immediately by a meeting of the Full Council to ratify any decision they might reach.

The Whalsay community is deeply riven over whether a new terminal should be built at North Voe, as originally suggested by officials, or the Symbister terminal should be upgraded. The issue of a tunnel entered the equation in February when a report on costs was ordered amid anecdotal evidence that the cost of a fixed link could be as low as £35 million.

That notion is dismissed by Mr Craigie, who was one of two officials and five councillors who travelled to Glasgow last month to meet Norwegian tunnelling experts to get a detailed assessment of likely costs.

The figures are based on a range of £10,000-£11,000 per metre and include connecting roadworks but not capital refurbishment costs over the 120-year lifespan of a tunnel for replacing plant and equipment and structural elements such as rock bolts and shotcrete lining.

They also ignore Treasury rules which insist on an estimate of the “optimism bias”, a technical term for the mistaken belief that the costs of a project will not rise. If this is factored in the cost could be between £124 million and £134 million.

With a five-year capital programme of £100 million and a policy of maintaining the council’s oil reserves above £250 million, it would be “impossible to accommodate [a tunnel] within the financial policy framework”, Mr Johnston tells councillors.

“An exception has already been made to that policy framework for the Anderson High School, but only on the basis that the Charitable Trust would buy it and lease it back. The Charitable Trust does not have the capital to make a further, larger exception for a Whalsay tunnel, and it is by no means evident that the council could afford the resulting lease payments either.

“In summary, on the best information available at the present time, the tunnel option is very substantially more expensive for the council than the continuation of the ferry service to Whalsay.”


Add Your Comment
  • Magnus Reid

    • April 15th, 2010 12:51

    Exactly what the majority of the Whalsay community have been trying to get through to the elected members since the transport link for Whalsay started.

    I think it’s time the council started listening to its own appointed officers rather than the google architect, and the buy one get two free tunnel experts, from Whalsay!

    Magnus Reid:

  • john polson

    • April 15th, 2010 20:17

    I hope that the members will listen this time.
    It seems that the £111 million quoted when this started has been a consertive estimate.

    John Polson

  • Alison Williamson

    • April 16th, 2010 9:27

    Well there’s a surprise. Not. Lets crack on and get a new ferry in the North Voe asap and hear no more about it!

  • Netta Simpson

    • April 16th, 2010 12:21

    Have I missed something here?? How come this conclusion has been reached by 2 ” SIC Officials” when as I understand it the Norwegian delegation has yet to come to Shetland and the meeting has yet to take place??

  • Kevin T Robertson

    • April 16th, 2010 18:18

    I think it’s called the conclusion to an investigation they started when the councillors got persuaded to investigate the option of a tunnel back in February.

    As most have noticed in the article above it says (that notion is dismissed by Mr Craigie, who was one of two officials and five councillors who travelled to Glasgow last month to meet Norwegian tunnelling experts to get a detailed assessment of likely costs) so I guess they’ve already had talks with the experts. Which has aided them in making the report they are going to present to the councillors.

    I’m not sure but I’m lead to believe the tunnel experts that are due in Shetland on Tuesday and are going to give a talk on tunnels, how they investigate pricing tunnels and explain to the councillors why they can’t build a tunnel at the dream price of £36 million as suggested by some locals. Who have done nothing but delay a decision on the future of transport links to whalsay.

  • Per Arne Moen

    • April 17th, 2010 16:08

    Building a tunnel is no miracle making or hokus pokus. We have done that in Norway for 100 years and have built subsea tunnels in the Faeroes, Iceland and 27 of them in Norway. Works perfect every one of them. In the meeting in Glasgow in March we agreed on a price of £10.000,- per meter. A tunnel to Whalsay is not only based on google design but on well discussed access point in the hills of Marrister and on the mainland in the eastern slope of the Fora Dale. This gives a tunnel with 40 meter rock cover and 8% slope of 5,2 km. 5,2 km x 10.000 is not 134 million. Dream prices and anecdotal evidences? Just reminding that the Norwegians offered to build the Yelsay subsea tunnel for 23 million in 2002. Ferry costs the next 50 years can not compete with that.

    Per Arne Moen
    Norwegian tunneler and geologist

  • Kevin T Robertson

    • April 18th, 2010 20:59

    I wounder if Per Arne Moen is getting mixed up with prices for a tunnel to Yell or Unst and not Whalsay (Yelsay). Because i’ve done abit of investigating today and found out that the stag report for Whalsay was started in 2004 and not 2002 when Per says the price of 23 million was offered. But there was prices submitted for tunnels to yell and unst in 2002.

  • Per Arne Moen

    • April 18th, 2010 22:55

    Sorry for the mixing. The tunnel refered to from 2002 was the 2,6 km Yell to Unst tunnel, not “Yelsay”. Whalsay was not in question at that time.

  • Joseph Kay

    • April 19th, 2010 7:06

    Per Arne Moen
    Norwegian tunneler and geologist.
    States, the Norwegians offered to build the Yelsay subsea tunnel for 23 million in 2002.

    Did that offer come from the same source as the 35 million price offered to build the” Whalsay to Shetland Mainland” tunnel in 2010?

  • Kevin T Robertson

    • April 19th, 2010 11:55

    Per Arne Moen.

    I hope you understand the trouble that has been caused locally over this tunnel situation. Such as ridiculously low prices etc. I hope in the future you can make sure you get your facts right before making comments. Some of our locals have been persuaded with this sort of thing before and it’s destroying our community.


    K T Robertson

  • Magnus Reid

    • April 20th, 2010 11:47

    Per Arne Moen,

    Eiksund Tunnel is around 1,000 vehicles, 50% of which are trucks. At one point, between the tunnel’s deepest point and Eika Inlet the gradient is 9.6%.

    According to the European Union (EU), a tunnel gradient should not exceed 5% but in Norway, which is not a member of the EU, gradients can reach 10%. This steep gradient may deter some drivers, as has been seen with the Oslo Fjord Tunnel where some drivers opt to drive round the fjord or take the ferry rather than the tunnel – and the Oslo tunnel’s gradient is only 7%.

    Was you’r tunnel priced on an 8% slope?

  • Neil Craig

    • July 10th, 2012 16:00

    The £10/11,000 per metre is at least twice what the average tunnel cost in Norway has been. These fit fairly well with the £35 million quoted. Interestingly the costs here seem to be a council estimate rather than a firm quote from the proposed Norwegian builders.

    Why would that be? One option is that they have such a firm quote and have decided not to make it public. The other is that they decided not to ask, relying insted on council estimates. If there is a 3rd option I would like to see it.

    I also note that on the ledger against a tunnel is “but not capital refurbishment costsover the 120-year lifespan of a tunnel ” but the same objection to running costs is not used with a ferry. Any ferry’s cost is obviously mainly running costs or are we expected to believe that the ferry will be running, cost \& refurbishment free, in 120 years.

    Clearly the council had its mind made up long before it asked the tunnelers for a quote, or more likely didn’t & just invented the figure. The fact is that a tunnel would initially cost little or nothing more than a ferry, would have marginal running costs and would allow far more traffic to move, far faster & more conveniently.

    These tunnels have changed life across Norway and the Faroes. My guess is that the councillors have been sat on by Holyrood. Holyrood decreed that they needed a new Forth bridge because a 3km tunnel under the Forth would cost £6,500 million and they don’t want to be made to look like liars.

  • Sandy McDonald

    • July 11th, 2012 15:58

    Why is it that on the continent and in Scandinavia they just get on with it and build the “thing*” in question but in the UK we have to spend 20 years talking about it before deciding not to build the “thing*”.

    *insert large public infrastructure project of your choice.


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