Wishart: give Bressay residents free ferry travel

The SIC should consider removing ferry fares for Bressay residents travelling to and from Lerwick to help regenerate the island, according to a senior councillor.

Lerwick North member Allan Wishart, who chairs local transport partnership ZetTrans, made the suggestion as councillors agreed that a consultation on shutting the island’s primary school should kick off at the end of this month.

The school has been brought to the brink of closure after the pupil roll collapsed from around 40 to just four in the last decade.

Nearly three quarters of parents who have school-aged offspring are taking them to Lerwick or elsewhere for primary education.

“Bressay’s problem is that it’s too near Lerwick,” Mr Wishart said. “While there’s been money lavished on other islands, and rightly so – airports, secondary school, health centres, leisure centres, Bressay has been largely neglected.

“Bressay is neither an island nor a suburb of Lerwick; it’s somewhere in between. In the longer term we have to have a fixed link [tunnel] there, and in the meantime I think we should have a look at no fares for Bressay residents.”

Mr Wishart’s comments, during Wednesday afternoon’s full council meeting, led to a rebuke from South Mainland member Allison Duncan.

“Free travel for the people of Bressay?” Mr Duncan asked. “I was of the opinion that he [Mr Wishart] wants to make savings and balance the budget. That doesn’t appear to be the case from that statement.”

Afterwards, Mr Wishart told this newspaper that the cost would have to be covered by charging tourists and visitors more to use the route.

But another South Mainland councillor, Billy Fox, said it was just as expensive for someone to drive in from the West Side. He described the Bressay ferry as “probably the only sustainable park-and-ride ser­vice we have in Shetland!”

During Wednesday morning’s education and family committee meeting, children’s services director Helen Budge said there was enough room in Bell’s Brae and Sound prim­aries to absorb the Bressay kids.

She said education officials did not believe a primary with only four pupils was the best educational option. Bressay is viewed differently from other islands because it is possible for children there to live at home and travel to school in Lerwick daily – not an option open for residents of more remote islands.

Councillors agreed that, should the closure go ahead, it would make sense to maintain the school build­ings so it could be reopened if demand recovers sufficiently.

Lerwick North member Michael Stout, who lives in Bressay, feels it is a “sad situation”. He said the prospective closure was merely a symptom of deeper issues the 400-strong community faces.

Mr Stout said that, while most islanders accepted there was little option other than closure in the short term, there was a “clear hope” the situation could be addressed.

“It would only take two or three families coming into Bressay,” he said, “and we could potentially have a healthier school roll.”

Councillor George Smith said it was important to look at the wider implications of a situation where an island community was “admitting some sort of freefall, maybe, in terms of retaining its population”.

When education and families committee chairwoman Vaila Wishart visited the school – with Scottish education minister Mike Russell in tow – last summer, she witnessed “a thriving school involved in an exciting project on shipwrecks”.

Twelve months on, it was “with a heavy heart” that Ms Wishart backed the move to proceed with a statutory consultation. If closure goes ahead, it is expected that primary and nursery kids will begin attending Bell’s Brae from August 2014.

Councillors agreed to delay the consultation’s start date from 23rd to 30th September. That will give more time, in Davie Sandison’s words, to “further explore why things are not really working in this community”.

A workshop, involving community work officer June Porter, is to take place. Its aim is to see what can be done to attract new – particularly young – families.

But councillor Alastair Cooper said members should be wary of creating an expectation that the community could be turned around in a couple of months.

* Full story in this week’s Shetland Times.


Add Your Comment
  • Johan Adamson

    • September 13th, 2013 12:40

    I am confused. Why is Bressay over and above the other islands we have which are struggling, to get free ferries? If one is free, they will all have to be free. And if this is the case then can we afford it (or afford not to?).

    I guess the Scottish Government stopping bridge tolls to Skye and across the Forth was for the same reasons

  • Jim Leask

    • September 13th, 2013 15:41

    Will Mr Wishart be advocating the issuing of free ferries for the other island communities that are struggling? I am sure that residents of those isles will all feel rightly aggrieved if they do not receive the same level of support for their communities. It probably is fair to say that Bressay has had less investment due to its proximity to Lerwick but is it also fair to say that due to its proximity to Lerwick, it has easy access to the centralised services and employment opportunities that most of those in the outer isles would give their back teeth for?

  • Marina Anderson

    • September 13th, 2013 20:34

    As a resident of Skerries I am finding it hard to digest Councillor Wishart’s statement. With no disrespect to the community of Bressay, the parents there have chosen to have their children educated elsewhere and should I have been a resident with Lerwick 5 minutes away, I may have done the same. As I live in Skerries we are faced with huge changes to our way of life, including a cut to our ferry service from 98 hours per week to 55 hours, an air service which is extremely unreliable and the threat of our secondary classroom closure. There has never been anyone in the council suggesting that we are having a hard time of it and proposing free ferries for our fragile community. Mr Wishart has been in Skerries several times and I would just like to say, “shame on you for not showing the same consideration to all the island communities”, there has to be fairness in all dealings with the residents of the whole Shetland community, anything less is double standards and hypocracy.

  • Stewart Mac

    • September 16th, 2013 14:13

    The problem is Marina, rather than being an island community, i think that for the majority of the time the Council simply considers Bressay a suburb of da Toon, just like Sound or Staneyhill.

    You are however quite right, it is untenable to consider such an approach for one island but not the others unless you are taking the Suburb approach.

    The ferries are one of the most expensive operations the Council does, but vital to the island communities so in these times of austerity and budget cuts to suggets free ferries for one seems to fly in the face of the rest of the cutbacks. Mind you, if they had built the bridge (or tunnel) when planned rather than waste all the money in consultants and legal arguements with the Harbour Board there may well have been more annual budget to speard to the other isles ferry services. Just one point of view of course.

  • Heather Lipthorpe

    • September 17th, 2013 9:23

    If you remove the ferry fare in Bressay, you remove it on ALL ferries. Just like the ferry runs have been cut for Whalsay & Skerries, whoever else, yet it seems like Bressay still needs a ferry every 15 minutes. Favouritism much?

  • Johan Adamson

    • September 17th, 2013 9:40

    Favouritism and Lerwickism


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