The man at the centre of the fight over possible coastguard closures was met by around 50 protesters when he arrived at the Lerwick station today.
MCA chief executive Sir Alan Massey visited the Knab Road unit to discuss ongoing consultation proposals to close either the Lerwick or Stornoway station and leave the surviving unit to operate on daylight hours only.
During a private session with staff the chief executive gave assurances that their views would be taken seriously, even offering them a hand in redrafting the far-reaching plans, which are out for consultation. Speaking after the meeting he said staff had made “very compelling points”.
They [staff] have been very courteous, very measured and very professional, in the sense that all of their concerns – of which they have many – focus on safety and the degree to which these proposals either are, or aren’t, the right way to go. They are concerned that anything we do should not increase the risks to the mariner or the coastal user.
“What we’ve put down on the consultation document is not a done deal. We have a mind that is open to other ideas because it may well be we haven’t put the right emphasis on certain aspects.”
The chief executive’s visit followed intense questioning earlier this week by the House of Commons Transport Select Committee, during which he admitted there were potential problems with communication links from the isles.
During his visit he admitted Shetland’s distance from the mainland made an absolute fool-proof system virtually impossible, but insisted efforts were underway to improve resilience.
“I would be a fool if I were to say there was any way forward that would guarantee 100 per cent communications. We’re working very hard with our suppliers to push that percentage of reliability closer to 100 per cent than it is at the moment. It’s quite high, it’s 99.95 per cent.
“The fact is you will never get 100 per cent guaranteed coverage on a place like Shetland given the fact that it’s got long tracts of sea to cover, and you get massively extreme weather here. All these things mitigate against it. What we can do is to put forward proposals and work with our suppliers to try and improve resilience.”
A statement from the Save Shetland Coastguard campaign group read: “Much constructive debate was held and staff were pleased that both Sir Alan and [chief coastguard] Mr [Rod] Johnson were willing to listen to their concerns, in addition staff were invited to contribute to the consultation process, even to the extent of rewriting the entire document, and gave an assurance that all contributions from both the staff and the public would be given full and proper consideration.
“Sir Alan also reassured staff that the safety of sea farers, coastal users, and the general public would not be compromised.”
There are now 41 days before the consultation process draws to a close, after which will follow “several weeks” of processing by an independent team of assessors.
The outcome of that will be judged by the MCA board, before recommendations are made to ministers.
A risk assessment document for the proposals has been prepared and is available to view on the MCA’s website.