Highlands and Islands Airport Limited (HIAL) is “hell-bent” on introducing parking charges at Sumburgh Airport, SIC councillors and transport officials have been told.
Head of Sumburgh Airport Consultative Committee Jimmy Smith recently met HIAL officials and got the impression that the charges would be introduced, despite a consultation exercise launched earlier this year.
“I’ve been in Inverness and met with [HIAL chief] Inglis Lyon twice,” Mr Smith told Monday’s meeting of the transport partnership ZetTrans. “They are still hell-bent on parking charges at Sumburgh. They have noted we are against it.”
Lerwick North councillor Caroline Miller said a socio-economic impact assessment should be made if the charges are brought out. “This is such an important issue,” she said. “These are lifeline services. We don’t have a choice – we either fly or we take the ferry, end of story.”
Shetland West councillor Frank Robertson raised eyebrows when he said the SIC had already covered the cost of car-park improvements at the airport. The council previously paid £852,000 towards improvements at Sumburgh, including £330,000 for the new car park. “I trust you’ve told them [HIAL] the SIC created the parking area in the first place?” Mr Robertson asked Mr Smith.
The comments came after ZetTrans chairwoman Iris Hawkins wrote to Mr Lyon, outlining the partnership’s objections to the charging regime. No response had been received by the time of the meeting.
Mrs Hawkins stated that air travel from Shetland was “far less discretionary than any other area of the Highlands and Islands” and described the plans as a “tax on travel” for islanders.
Difficulties in providing a comprehensive public transport network also make the proposals unworkable, according to Mrs Hawkins’ letter.
“A highly dispersed pattern of settlements and long travel distances due to the location of the airport at the south of the islands makes widespread and frequent transport links prohibitively expensive,” she wrote. “Even if travellers were to choose to use public transport from Lerwick to Sumburgh there is insufficient parking available in Lerwick to absorb any significant increase in demand.”
Mrs Hawkins supported Mr Smith in his claims the consultation period was too short and unlikely to be effective. “Using the SACC as the vehicle of this type of consultation . . . places unreasonable expectations and demands on the unpaid chairman of the SACC when the responsibility for ensuring effective engagement and therefore meaningful consultation should lie directly with HIAL,” Mrs Hawkins stated.
She added that a letter sent to Mr Smith in February “effectively passes much of the challenge of developing a coherent charging system and how it would be implemented on to the SACC. “This is not the purpose of this group and HIAL needs to develop a great deal more detail on any charging model and how it would be implemented.”