The government’s proposal to shut either Shetland’s or Stornoway’s coastguard station is “fundamentally flawed” and underestimates the length of Scotland’s coastline by thousands of miles, according to isles MSP Tavish Scott.
Shipping minister Mike Penning claims in the closure consultation document that the UK has a coastline of “more than 10,500 miles”, but Mr Scott points out that a written reply from the department for communities and local government shows that Scotland alone has 14,675 miles of coastline. A UK minister in June stated that the UK’s coastline was 26,035 miles long.
Mr Scott said the figures bolstered the case for retaining stations both here and in the Western Isles. Under the government’s proposal one of the two is set to close.
A petition against the closure has garnered 1,350 signatures in a fortnight, while the number to have joined a Facebook group to save Shetland Coastguard had reached 3,130 early today. Local politicians have hit out at the UK government for playing one island community off against another.
“If the shipping minister does not even know how long the coastline is, how can we take his proposals seriously?” asked Mr Scott. “Measurements of coastline lengths will of course vary, depending on just how the measurements are made, but a difference of this magnitude cannot be explained away.
“If Mike Penning thinks that 10,500 miles of coast needs eight coastguard stations, then Scotland alone should surely have at least 10 to cover our actual coastline length.”
In addition, Mr Scott pointed out that Scotland has over half the UK’s coastline, but the government plans to leave Shetland with just two of the country’s eight coastguard stations.
“The areas covered by the Lerwick and Stornoway coastguard stations are also the most complex in terms of their coastlines. The loss of either of these stations, and of the vital local knowledge they have, would be a dangerous and unacceptable one.”
Mr Scott said there were other major flaws, including reliance on robust communication links despite very recent evidence of technological breakdowns.
“Over-reliance on long distance communications links, which can be put out by as simple a thing as a lightning strike, is dangerous. Shetland must make its voice heard. We can do this by maximising the number of responses to the consultation.
“It is important that the extent of the support for the Lerwick station is made clear to the government, with everyone who can responding to the consultation. Most important are those with particular marine expertise to put across, both professional seamen and those who go to sea for pleasure, but I hope that businesses with marine links will also respond.
“The council is already working hard, but I hope that individually community councils will respond as well. And clearly the more individuals who also respond the better.”
The proposed cutbacks are part of an effort to save £5 million a year over the next five years. Even if the coastguard station in Shetland is kept open, the government is planning to cut its opening hours.
You can sign the online petition to save Shetland’s coastguard station at www.gopetition.com/petition/41468.html.
The consultation exercise runs until 24th March and you can respond either by completing an online questionnaire, which can be downloaded from the MCA website at www.mca.gov.uk, or by writing to the MCA’s Southampton headquarters.