Hunt on for charter ferry to ease pressure on busy Whalsay route

Efforts are being made to track down a suitable charter ferry to ease the growing logjam on the Whalsay route. The Skerries ferry Filla may also be brought in at peak times to alleviate the queues of traffic.

The moves were revealed by council transport manager Michael Craigie at the infrastructure committee on Tuesday to defuse councillors’ mounting irritation at what they see as a lack of action to address the island’s ferries problems.

Mr Craigie insisted nobody was sitting around. “It is all hands to the pumps to try to address what we know is a growing problem,” he said.

He had just listened to several members complain that solving Whalsay’s problem seemed lost alongside the other major task of finding funding to build tunnels to the isles. The infrastructure committee had just been told that surveys of the crumbling Whalsay ferry terminals to determine what remedial action is required would not be completed until next year.

Whalsay’s problem was raised, for the umpteenth time, by the Whalsay-resident councillor Josie Simpson who said the queues had been made worse by the closure of the island’s salmon factory, which means more people commuting to find work. Now the Linga’s passenger capacity has been cut from 95 to 50 during the winter. She has been penalised on safety grounds until modifications are carried out next year to increase buoyancy in the event of hull damage.

Councillor Laura Baisley said the Whalsay community had been left in a “horrendous” state of limbo with no information forthcoming as to a possible solution. Alastair Cooper said councillors kept hearing about the problems but not the solutions, although he was quickly accused by Allan Wishart of being part of the problem, having led the bid to stop new terminals and a ferry being built in favour of looking into tunnels.

Mr Simpson is becoming increasingly worried that tunnels are pie in the sky because the UK is broke. Last week’s visit by Scottish finance secretary John Swinney merely confirmed that suspicion “loud and clear” to the vice-convener with 2025 now looking like the earliest recovery time for government spending. “There is just no money available,” Mr Simpson said.

Andrew Hughson agreed, asking why the council was going down avenues which had no hope of money in them.

Early next year looks set to be the time for historic decisions to be made. The council will meet Scottish ministers again to give more details about its tunnel dreams in the hope that funding might be pledged. Councillors will also hear whether the search elsewhere for funds has found a pot of gold which would then allow them to sit down and decide in what order they should be built.

Otherwise it will be back to a future of ever-larger ferries with particular urgency in returning to the process of building new terminals and a super-ferry for Whalsay.

Betty Fullerton wanted the working group to be allowed to get on with its quest for tunnel money and not be put off just because “John Swinney’s pockets are empty”.

When convener Sandy Cluness suggested leasing a ferry several other councillors were falling over themselves to put forward the same idea. He said there must be a few spare ships around given that other places have been replacing them with fixed links.

Cue an intervention from Robert Henderson, the former owner of hauliers RS Henderson, with his familiar refrain that building bigger ferries for Yell Sound instead of tunnels was one of the most regrettable things the council had ever done.


Add Your Comment
  • Kevin T Robertson

    • October 5th, 2010 23:28

    Can anyone tell me if Betty Fullerton attended any of the meetings With the Accounts Commission, Audit Scotland or John Swinney. Because if she did why does she make this ridiculous comment (Betty Fullerton wanted the working group to be allowed to get on with its quest for tunnel money and not be put off just because “John Swinney’s pockets are empty). Someone might need to explain to Betty that over the last few weeks the Council has been pulled over the coals and told to buck up there ideas.

    Robert Henderson said matters would get worse if Whalsay’s fish factory failed to re-open and more people were forced to commute to the Shetland mainland for work. Well sadly Robert this has happened.

    Laura Baisly so far has been the Councillor who has tried to fight for the needs of our Community. Josie Simpson has kept stating the dire state of the Whalsay service. Robert Henderson (supposedly a Whalsay Councillor) has done nothing for the needs of Whalsays commuters except keeps dreaming of unrealistic funding for a Tunnel in year dot all this is doing is stalling the improvements that’s desperately needed to our Transport links.

    This must be the time you all pull together and fight for the needs of your constituants and get this problem solved. If you can’t fight for the needs of your constituants you should step down and let someone who cares do the job.

    Alastair Cooper said councillors kept hearing about the problems but not the solutions. I will try and explain a few problems and solutions to Alistair.

    First problem Alistair being the one heading the group dreaming of funding for £300 million to build Tunnels. Second problem Alistair on the Ferries Board saying Whalsay needs bigger Ferries but the harbour isn’t big enough (wooden spoon). Third problem Alistair not understanding or caring about the needs of our Island communities.

    First solution Alistair to stop dreaming of funding and work with reality of funding available within the present financial crisis. Second solution Alistair and Robert Henderson to resign from the Ferries Board as they obviously have no interest in the immediate needs of island Commuters or future generations. Third solution start to listen to the Accounts Commission, Audit Scotland and John Swinney.

    You must now try to do whats best for the Whalsay public and stop dragging your heels on the future Transport links. The young residents are already starting to leave the Island with the depopulation of our Island looking more realistic due to this on going saga. In the future Tunnels may well be the best option but we can’t wait for the possibility of money being available in year dot.

    K T Robertson


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