Inter-island transport under the microscope

A number of public meetings have been held this week to discuss the future of inter-island transport links.

The drop-in sessions are part of a consultation by Shetland Islands Council and ZetTrans in their ongoing work to secure long-term funding for transport links within Shetland.

Meetings have been held during the week in Whalsay, Bressay, Foula, Fair Isle and Yell. Two additional sessions have been organised for next week: one in Unst on Tuesday 6th September, from 4-8pm in the Baltasound Hall, and one in the Fetlar Hall on Thursday 8th September, from 6.30pm-8.45pm.

The event due to take place in Skerries yesterday (Friday) was postponed and will be rescheduled. An online consultation will also run until Monday, 19th September.

Public responses to the consultation will be used to inform the Scottish government, as they consider future funding of the inter-island transport links.

At a meeting of the environment and transport committee on Monday chairman Michael Stout said that islands minister Humza Yousaf had expressed a “clear commitment to fairer fares” for internal ferries.

Michael Stout: "Meaningful saving”.
Michael Stout.

Mr Stout, who is also the chairman of ZetTrans, said that this made the consultation particularly timely because the council had the “political backing” of the government.

At the same meeting director of development services Neil Grant said that a “downturn” in passengers using the internal links last year “does not look to have been continued”.

In 2013 the total number of ferry passengers for the year was 786,540. In 2014 this slumped to 768,661 and in 2015 this number fell again, to 741,902.

During the first six months of 2016, numbers appear to be on the up again.

With political backing and increased usage the council now hope to progress the study to its conclusion, with final reporting due in October.

Speaking ahead of the week of consultations Mr Stout said: “We are now at a critical stage in an extensive piece of work with Transport Scotland to plan for the next 30 years of inter-island transport in Shetland.

“We’ve gathered a huge amount of information from communities in recent years, which, along with feedback from these events, will be crucial to the proposals put forward to the Scottish government on future funding and provision.”

He added: “I would encourage as many folk as possible to come along to one of the sessions, or complete the online questionnaire, to give us their views.”

Whalsay community council vice chairman Brian Marshall, speaking after the meeting on the Bonnie Isle, said: “I think the meeting was useful to an extent.

“But I don’t think there was enough information presented on ferries and linkspans for example.”

Mr Marshall said he favoured the fixed link option for Whalsay and felt information relating to such a project was conspicuous by its absence.

But he added that he understood that this would be an expensive option, especially given that ferries would have to operate in the interim period.

He said: “We’ve been told that the price of fixed links would cost more than two ferry cycles.”

Mr Marshall added that there were concerns in Whalsay about the unreliable and ageing fleet, which has been hindered by a number of problems in recent years.

Another concern for Whalsay residents is that the isle is lumped in with the North Isles by the Boundary Commission and does not have a single local councillor.

He said: “I think it’s a shame that we don’t have a dedicated councillor.”

He noted that Steven Coutts and Robert Henderson do regularly attend Whalsay Community Council meetings to hear local concerns and pointed out the irony that Gary Cleaver, an Unst resident, is often unable to attend because of the ferry timetable.

Mr Marshall’s wife Linda said that she her main concerns were about the “social, educational and medical” impact of a reduced ferry service.

Mrs Marshall also favoured a fixed link which she felt would mean savings for the council in the long term.

She added: “We’ve chosen to live here, but I don’t see why we should be penalised for that.”

The meetings also come during a week in which a Yell resident took issue with the timing of Mainland events and how they impact residents who must catch ferry connections. Stuart Hannay said that he was forced to miss the tail end of the Richard Hawley concert at Mareel owing to the timing of the concert against the timing of the last ferry to Yell. (See this week’s Shetland Times’ readers views.)


Add Your Comment
  • John Tulloch

    • September 3rd, 2016 10:21

    FIxed links – tunnels – giving 24hr, 365/6 day access to mainland workplaces and facilities are surely the way forward for the Nort Isles and Bressay. If the information posted by Alec Priest previously does not persuade the SIC to look seriously into provision of tunnels then I don’t know what will.

    But don’t look to Holyrood for any sense, they’ll probably bring in CalMac to replace what we’ve got “wi a muckle steamer ta Lerook”.

  • John Tulloch

    • September 3rd, 2016 10:57

    If my Saturday morning brain is working ok, Faroe already has over 40km of road tunnels (19 in all), the longest being over 6km. The first one (1.45km) was installed in 1963 and will be replaced next year.

    They also have another five, totalling 36km, in development and planning, including ones of 11km (2018), 10km (2021) and a massive 20km one from Vaagoy to Suduroy.

    Of course, they have control of their own affairs and finances, that’s the crucial difference.

  • Alec Priest

    • September 9th, 2016 10:36

    The Vidareidi tunnel in Faroe 2014 – 17, a 1.9KM tunnel with 3.6Km of road works. This is a project cost of £13.6 million.
    Røssåga Hydropower development in Norway 2015/16, The project consists of about 5 km in Upper Røssåga and 14 km of tunnel in Lower Røssåga. A power station will also be blasted in the mountain. This has a project cost of £65.7 million.
    This is how our Scandinavian cousins can do a job properly. On the other hand, the Shetland transport department (who’s jobs may be at risk if the ferries are replaced with tunnels) came up with figures for getting fixed links to Shetland as:
    Whalsay 5.5km tunnel = £169-£214 million
    Yellsound 4.7km tunnel = £150-£189 million.
    Bluemull Sound 2.6km tunnel = £111-£141 million.

    So the Norwegians can install a total of 19km tunnel AND blast the side out of a mountain to clear a site for a power station for £65.7 million, but the transport department are telling us that to do under 13km of tunnelling in Shetland will cost up to £544 million? Really? REALLY?
    We really need people who’s jobs do not rely on ferries, manipulating the figures, to get quotes and decide on what is best for Shetland as a single entity, not an “us and them” community.

  • John Tulloch

    • September 9th, 2016 15:10

    This is a very serious allegation from Alec Priest which is not an isolated one.

    Recent allegations by similarly well-informed people from Whalsay that SIC officials vastly inflated cost estimates for the proposed Whalsay harbour extension, leading councillors meekly to obey their recommendation to reject it, appear to support Mr Priest’s claim.

    This issue affects not only councillors who need reliable information to make decisions, it damages the already shaky credibility of the entire SIC.

    Stacking information to suit political or self-interest purposes unacceptable and appropriate action should be taken to investigate the circumstances and, either, withdraw the estimates or publish the findings that support them, as the case may be.

    We are already witnessing the consequences of SIC mismanagement of the isles – depopulation. Ferry cuts, businesses closing, school closures in response to falling roles instead of action to arrest the decline, are all playing their part.

    This cannot be allowed to pass, unchallenged. We need to know which side of the tunnel estimates story represents the truth.

  • Alec Priest

    • September 10th, 2016 19:38

    All the information I have is publicly available, it is not my interpretation of any figures, they are “as found”.

    Leonhard Nilsen & Sønner (LNS), this is the Norwegian contractor who gave quotes to the SIITS and are the ones currently undertaking the projects in Faroe and Norway I mentioned in my earlier quote. You can look at the website to get information on current projects. –

    If you want to spend the time you can also look into the SICs minutes online to see the wild variations in the costs of tunnels and ferries put forward for councillors to vote on which option we spend our money on. A good example of this is the official figures on the ferry replacement for Whalsay presented to the SIC councillors in 2010:

    28 May 2010. Special Infrastructure Committee (In the morning.)
    Option 4- North Voe terminal, (etc.) Present Value of Costs £26,305,170

    During that morning after seeing the council report online, a concerned member of the public questioned the author of the S.T.A.G. report regarding the figures contained in the council officials report; the council report presented to the Councilors at the meeting in the afternoon contained a different set of figures, part of which is shown below.

    28 May 2010. Special Infrastructure Committee (In the afternoon.)
    Option 4- North Voe terminal, (etc.) Present Value of Costs £60,821,128

    It is no wonder that Shetlanders are undecided on which infrastructure option is the most cost effective with official costs changing as often as the direction of the wind.

    They say apathy is the Shetlanders worst enemy, I would have to agree, we do not challenge enough when folk try to stream roll over us.

  • Alec Priest

    • September 11th, 2016 21:53

    As to what side of the tunnels estimates represent the truth, the easiest way to determine that is to look into the public information that is available. There is so much information, that once put together is very clear on what the actul cost on tunnels is.

    A lot of the information that Shetlanders would find interesting is actually publicly available, you just need to know where to start looking. For example, there is the costs for the building of tunnels in Faroe and Norway are from the same company that the SIITS used to get Shetland tunnel prices from, the company is Leonhard Nilsen & Sønner, website

    The other information that you can find with a just a couple of minutes of searching is from our own councils website, the minutes from meetings where the “official” costs for ferries and tunnels have been resented to our councilors, all you need to do is go onto the SIC website and have look through the minutes, it is all publicly available information. A prime example of why the Shetland public has been getting bombarded by confusing is figures can been seen in the SIC minutes from 2010:

    28 May 2010. Special Infrastructure Committee (In the morning.)
    Option 4- North Voe terminal, (etc.) Present Value of Costs £26,305,170

    During that morning after seeing the council report online, a concerned member of the public questioned the author of the S.T.A.G. report regarding the figures contained in the council officials report; the council report presented to the Councilors at the meeting in the afternoon contained a different set of figures, part of which is shown below.

    28 May 2010. Special Infrastructure Committee (In the afternoon.)
    Option 4- North Voe terminal, (etc.) Present Value of Costs £60,821,128

    In May 2010 a Norwegian tunneling company, Tunnel & Geoconsult carried out a geological survey for the proposed Whalsay and put the cost of a 5.75km tunnel to Whalsay at a cost of £57,193,144 (+/- 20%), but 6 years later we have new figures stating excessive tunnel figures and no sign of ferry costs?

    There is a whole series of figures ever the past 10 years that conflict wildly. It is often said that the Shetlanders worst enemy is apathy, I regrettably have to agree with this as we all too often let people roll right over us. By opting for out-dated transport systems that benefit the few will undoubtedly end up costing Shetland more than people realise.

  • John Tulloch

    • September 12th, 2016 19:31

    The SIC leaders are seemingly going to Faroe for talks about governance and other areas of mutual interest.

    This is welcome and commendable.

    Other areas of mutual interest obviously include provision of broadband/mobile communications and transport and the questions of how Faroe approaches sustainability of remote communities and why do they have so many fixed transport links, instead of ferries are of great interest.

    Here’s how Faroe folk travel to their “North Isles” – quite an eyeopener!


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