Fixed links to island communities would cost at least £230 million

Bressay and Whalsay are being lined up as the first islands to benefit from having a subsea tunnel connecting their communities to the Shetland mainland, subject to councillors backing the findings of a new report tomorrow.

An economic impact study, carried out by Inverness-based economic consultants Reference, estimates a basic capital cost of £26 million for a tunnel across Lerwick Harbour to Bressay.

A lengthier tunnel or other fixed link to Whalsay comes with a ballpark price tag of £86 million. The high cost of tunnels means it is likely to be several years before either project happens.

Council transport manager Michael Craigie said members of the development committee, which meets on Thursday morning, were being asked to authorise more detailed investigations of tunnels to Bressay and Whalsay. The other islands which stand to get similar fixed links in the longer term are Unst and Yell.

Mr Craigie said a fixed links steering group had concluded the most pressing priorities were Whalsay and Bressay. There is high demand for the Bonnie Isle’s ferry service and its terminals need upgraded soon. In Bressay’s case, there is scope for making big savings by not having to fund a ferry doing the five-minute shuttle to and from Lerwick.

ZetTrans chairman Allan Wishart, whose Lerwick North constituency includes Bressay, said there were very good practical reasons why it should come first. Should a tunnel be built, it will be the first of its kind anywhere in Scotland. Mr Wishart believes it would make sense from an engineering perspective to experiment on a “very short route in relatively sheltered waters”.

Bressay residents, he pointed out, do not benefit from many of the on-tap public services other islands do, but still have to pay the same ferry fares. “When Bressay residents want to come across for medical appointments, secondary school, leisure pursuits, entertainment, they have to get on that ferry – in other islands that’s taken for granted as local,” he said.

In Whalsay’s case, the existing ferry terminals are nearing the end of their shelf life and Mr Wishart said it was vital the council didn’t inhibit the island’s chances of economic growth.

Although the SIC’s agreed policy is to build four subsea tunnels, the prospect of public funding any time soon is uncertain at best. Not including contingencies, the construction of all four is estimated to come to over £230 million – a Yell Sound link costing in excess of £80 million and a connection across the shorter Bluemull Sound between Gutcher and Belmont requiring a potential £46 million outlay.

Mr Wishart said the next key step was to secure the Scottish government’s support for the principle, which would assist in pursuing money from elsewhere, chiefly the EU. Talks were held when transport minister Keith Brown visited the islands earlier this month.

Gauging what support the council can expect from Europe and Edinburgh will determine how big a funding gap it needs to plug, Mr Craigie said. After that other funding models, such as user tolls and borrowing money to build the infrastructure will be examined.

His report to councillors states: “[Mr Brown] made it clear that capital funding at the national level is one of the most severely hit budget areas and that any significant capital funding support in the next few years is unlikely. However he did agree that support at the European level can be explored and that he would welcome a paper from Shetland Islands Council describing our strategy and case for support.”

Reference’s study says the overall economic impact of building fixed links would be “generally modest”. In Bressay’s case, however, it could transform the island from “what is an essentially rural community to a much more populous one” which is “more akin to other areas close to Lerwick”.

For Unst, Whalsay and Yell, the links would be expected to “generate an initial increase in population, followed by a reversion to trend”. One of the chief impacts might be to swell the number of people commuting to work on the mainland.

Though by becoming physically connected to the mainland they would no longer be islands, the study expects that each would “retain its own identity, given their historic status as islands”. The consultants give the examples of Burra and Trondra, given bridges in the early 1970s, and other cases where fixed links have been built outside of Shetland.

The study says that, though there would be job losses if ferry services are no longer needed, those could be offset by a boost to economic activity. That would rely on those finding themselves out of work “mostly being able to find work on mainland Shetland, rather than relying on getting other jobs on the island where they live”.


Add Your Comment
  • Kevin t Robertson

    • January 26th, 2012 11:35

    I find it very hard to believe that with the European and World financial state today that who ever has come up with the price of £80 million for a fixed link to Whalsay have got there figures a little mixed up again. Similar situation ot the so called Norwegian expert who mixed the Whalsay Crossing up with his figures for Yell sound and suggested the Whalsay fixed link could be built for £36 million.

    My reason for thinking this is because the last figures was between £86 – £112 million pounds. This was from a Norwegian company who supplied and sourced funding for similar projects in Norway. Just now the price of everything in the world is increasing each day. So for the price of such a big project to to have dropped in price in such a short period of time i find hard to believe. Building companies are going burst all around Europe because of the price of raw products it requires to build things.

    I wounder what they suggesting they are going to build the New Tunnels with since it’s the only thing in the world just now going down in price? Fresh air possibly?

    I hope for the sake of all the Communities in Shetland not just the Islands that are being affected that this can be sorted soon before they waste more of our money. It’s just another shambles that the SIC has got it self into. Hopefully it’s not long before they realise they are just wasting public time and money on there never ending story (i suggest this name) WE CAN NOT MAKE A SENSIBLE DECISSION. I’m sure with all the stories available from with inside the Council Chambers since this council was elected they could sell a few Hollywood Block Busters this may be there best chance of paying for some of there decisions or should i say there non-decisions.

    K T Robertson


  • W Conroy

    • January 26th, 2012 21:08

    So decisions on school closures are soaking up too much staff time and are no longer affordable for the council but continuing to spend more money discussing fixed links to small island communities is top on the agenda.

    Mr Wishart points out that “When Bressay residents want to come across for medical appointments, secondary school, leisure pursuits, entertainment, they have to get on that ferry” Surely residents are aware of this and have the choice of whether to live there? I know I weigh up the pros and cons of wherever I stay – transport links, services, entertainment etc – and if I’m unsatisfied with what I have I move. If I was to live on Bressay I would be doing so to live in a rural community – not live in an extension of Lerwick which is exactly what Bressay would become if a fixed link was there.

    What next? You know Shetland doesn’t have a fixed link to the mainland – maybe we could get a tunnel linking us? Come to think of it we could have 2 tunnels (1 to Norway) Shetland could become a thriving metropolis and instead of just the smaller islands “mostly being able to find work on mainland Shetland, rather than relying on getting other jobs on the island where they live” the whole of Shetland could mostly be able to find work on the mainland rather than relying on getting other jobs on the island where they live…

    Get a grip!

  • Joseph Kay

    • January 26th, 2012 21:43

    Having just read the above, re’ proposed tunnels to Bressay and Whalsay.
    When do we get to hear the TRUE cost of such a venture? or do we go to the Scottish goverment and Europe with what is written in the article above, quote:–

    ‘An economic impact study, carried out by Inverness-based economic consultants Reference, estimates a basic capital cost of £26 million for a tunnel across Lerwick Harbour to Bressay.

    A lengthier tunnel or other fixed link to Whalsay comes with a ballpark price tag of £86 million’.

    If no one can be pinned down on costs does that mean we must ask for a blank cheque or cheques to fund such an undertaking, there are many other costs, I have travelled through the sub-sea Vigra tunnel, I was amazed how dry it was and said so to the Norwegian driver,
    ha, it was not allways so! he exclaimed, no no plenty of water a few years back, this whole tunnel had to be re-lined, did you continue using it during that operation I asked, no no it had to be completely shut for about two years, we had to get back ferries, but it is all dry now.
    This link is of great importance to this area as there is a big airport on Vigra which serves the whole Alesund area, a population of something like 45.000, what will be Whalsays population in 10 years time? what will sustain it for a subsequent 50 years? those questions also need answers, what we do know is what has sustained Whalsay’s population previous 100 years and more “Fishing”, the trend here is older men and fewer of them, whats the likelihood of this being turned around? Oh but a tunnel will sort all that according to”economic consultants Reference” as for funding I would not be surprised if either the Scottish goverment and Europe did agree to it.

    Joseph Kay
    18 Tripwell

  • David Spence

    • January 26th, 2012 23:15


    At a time where the council are making decisions which affect the everyday lives of frontline workers and service users alike, they are STILL paying consultants to tell them how much tunnels may or may not cost.

    The Islands have not moved, nor has the sub-sea geology changed, until one of those happens, the studies (extensive and expensive) already done remain valid.

    We all know how much tunnels can cost, we have been being told for decades. Now, of the council is serious about saving, how about we hear how much ALL the studies, consultants etc into tunnels has ALREADY cost over the years, and make a sensible cut for once.

  • Dave Heaney

    • January 28th, 2012 16:32

    Why not ask Murphy & Sons from Dublinwho gave the cheapest quote to build the channel tunnel from dover to France? when asked how he would carry out the works? Murphy replied, ” Well Sir I would start the Tunnel at the Dover end, and me son Patrick would start
    the tunnel on the French side and before to long we would meet in the middle,”
    And what happen’s if you both miss each other?”asked the main contractor” “Well Sir, you would have two tunnels for the price of one” replied Murphy. He was awarded the contract.

  • Peter W. Anderson

    • March 1st, 2012 0:25

    Well here we are going over some old ground again, and I still stand by everything I have previously said about this farce.

    The following link shows how much 1.4 miles of tunnel actually cost last year. £371million.

    If you Google search for ‘Hindhead tunnel’ you will get the full BBC report if this link does not work.

    It is a dual carriageway, made of 2 tunnels. So you can imagine that 1.4 miles of single tunnel could cost £185.5 million. These are actual fact figures – not estimates, from how much it cost to dig this tunnel under a hill, not the sea, in 2011. At these rates, whom it may concern are seriously under-estimating their costs for tunnels under the sounds of Shetland. Our higher price of fuel alone will add a considerable %age to any final cost.

    The Scottish and UK Governments are currently short with all the cutbacks across the country, so doubtful any funding will come from there. Funding couldn’t be found for a tunnel under the Forth, which is a similar distance to Whalsay sound. The Forth bridge takes over 20million crossings annually.

    In the wake of recent European financial events, for our – apparently ‘oil rich’ & best off in the UK – council to go into Europe, with ‘cup in hand’ asking for this kind of money – a still unconfirmed amount – after wasting so much of their own, could be the biggest fantasy yet.

    Meanwhile at her birthday, our ferry is 30 years old. And counting.

    Peter W. Anderson


Add Your Comment

Please note, it is the policy of The Shetland Times to publish comments and letters from named individuals only. Both forename and surname are required.

Comments are moderated. Contributors must observe normal standards of decency and tolerance for the opinions of others.

The views expressed are those of contributors and not of The Shetland Times.

The Shetland Times reserves the right to decline or remove any contribution without notice or stating reason.

Comments are limited to 200 words but please email longer articles or letters to for consideration and include a daytime telephone number and your address. If emailing information in confidence please put "Not for publication" in both the subject line and at the top of the main message.

200 words left

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Get Latest News in Your Inbox

Join the The Shetland Times mailing list to get one daily email update at midday on what's happening in Shetland.