Petrol-heads have been offered hope that land may become available for motor sport events, despite a move by councillors to put the brakes on high-octane attractions at Tingwall Airport.
Members of today’s environment and transport committee gave their backing to a report recommending the airstrip should not be made available for “non-aviation use”.
Key among concerns listed was the air ambulance, which can land at Tingwall at all times. Members were told staging motor sport events there would have meant closing the airport to all traffic, including the air ambulance.
Head of infrastructure Maggie Sandison told members: “The air ambulance pays four members of staff to be on standby to ensure that Tingwall Airport is available 24/7 year round,” said Mrs Sandison.
“For us to hold an event … we’d have to close the airport and that means we’d not be able to accept any traffic – and that includes air ambulance traffic.”
Figures contained in a report showed a total of 53 landings were made at Tingwall by the air ambulance last year. Of those, 26 were outside normal operating hours.
Tingwall has already been used twice by Shetland Motorsport Club, after objections brought a halt to previous events in Unst.
But political leader Gary Robinson told members he hoped some arrangement could be made which would allow events to take place in the future.
“We should try to work with the motorsport club to see if we can find an alternative for them. If they want to test their cars to the limit it’s best that it is done off the public highway.”
His comments came after members were told the staging of motor sport events could hasten the deterioration of the airstrip. The last quotation for relaying the runway – received several years ago – indicated a cost of £150,000.
Jonathan Wills recalled times past when golfers used the Sumburgh airstrip – “we’d shout ‘fore’ and a plane would land” – and learner drivers would practise their skills at Scatsta.
He cited motoring journalist Jeremy Clarkson who, he said, uses an “abandoned RAF field” for high-speed thrills.
“This is an excellent recommendation. I can’t imagine it would take us long to write and explain to say ‘no’.”
Members were told the emergency aircraft would normally give 90 minutes notice before landing outside opening hours.
However, Mrs Sandison said the airport would have to turn away emergencies if events were accommodated on the airstrip.
Theo Smith worried that members were “hamstrung” by “bureaucratic nonsense”. But chairman Allan Wishart said public safety had to be considered.
“It comes back to risks,” he told fellow members.
However he praised the motorsport club for the “professional” manner in which it had approached the matter. The club had submitted a four-page response to a risk assessment report.
“All credit to the motorsport club because they have been quite professional in the way they’ve approached this,” Mr Wishart said.
“They have been very courteous and have done everything they can. But at the end of the day this is a risk that only needs one emergency that goes wrong. That’s not a thing I’d like to live with if an aircraft couldn’t get in on time.”
David Sandison noted there had been only two landings per weekend day at Tingwall over the last two years.
He worried the “low level” of use indicated the committee was “going a step too far in restricting opportunities for others”.
Robert Henderson insisted he kept an “open mind”, but moved the recommendation be approved.
“I don’t think we are in a position where we can compromise the health and well-being of any person in Shetland.” He was seconded by Dr Wills.
• More reaction to this story in Friday’s Shetland Times.