The row over the introduction of car parking charges at Sumburgh Airport is hotting up, with isles MSP Tavish Scott and SIC councillor Ryan Thomson penning a joint letter to Scottish Transport Minister Humza Yousaf.
The decision by Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (Hial) to charge motorists £3 per day from this summer came under discussion at First Minister’s Questions, where Nicola Sturgeon said it was “remiss” of Hial not to consult before announcing its plans.
Members of Sumburgh’s consultative group strongly opposed the move – which also extends to Orkney and Stornoway airports – at their meeting in private last week with Hial’s managing director, Inglis Lyon.
For his part, Mr Lyon has said Hial had to first go through a “number of hoops” with the Scottish government on the matter.
The letter to Mr Yousaf reads: “We write jointly to ask that you halt the imposition of car parking charges at Sumburgh Airport.
“Hial have not consulted in Shetland on this. Their own strategic plan makes much of key stakeholders and yet, on this, they propose to impose a plan which has major implications for the travelling Shetland public.
“We believe that the Scottish government’s own consultation procedures, precedents and requirements would mean that you should insist that Hial operate consistently with those.
“Indeed, we cannot see how they can possibly be allowed not to consult. There are related and important questions for the Hial board about governance and their conduct. We are sure that you may wish to review their role too.
“You will be aware that the Sumburgh Airport Consultative Committee, on which we both sit, was not consulted. We are not sure what the point of a ‘consultative’ committee is if its main sponsor, Hial, do not consult with it.
“We are aware of the very strong letter that its chairman, Mr J.L.B Smith, has written to you and we share his misgivings about the conduct of Hial. Mr Smith has a considerable record of public service to Shetland and for him to be treated in this way by the board and senior management of Hial is, we believe, at best inappropriate and at worst, beneath contempt.”
The letter adds that Sumburgh lies 25 miles away from Lerwick, and that the bus service is “limited”.
“It is not a direct airport connection unlike those bus services that operate at other airports such as Inverness. In addition, there is no direct connection by public transport to other communities across Shetland.”
The letter calls on Hial to initiate a “proper, appropriate” consultation.
Speaking regarding the joint letter, Mr Scott said: “I am pleased to join Cllr Ryan Thomson and colleagues across the SIC in demanding that Hial conduct a full and open consultation on their proposal to charge for car parking at Sumburgh.
“We have spoken with one voice. Today we are asking the Transport Minister to accept that his government’s normal approach to consult on a policy decision that affects thousands of islanders has been ignored by his own airport quango. That is unacceptable.
“Therefore we trust that the First Minster will be as good as her word last week in Holyrood and agree with us that a full consultation with islanders, the SIC and many other businesses must now take place, before any imposition of charges at Sumburgh.”
It follows a call for early discussions with Hial by the council.
Interim leader Steven Coutts said: “I am extremely disappointed that Hial has not consulted the local authority on these plans prior to an announcement. Nor has the issue been brought before the Sumburgh Airport Consultative Committee.
“The services running out of Sumburgh rely on the airport’s infrastructure, but we’re asking for Hial’s evidence that every other source of funding for improvements was investigated before taking this decision.
“It is a prime example of how decisions can have distinctly ‘island’ impacts, leading to what I believe are disproportionately negative effects – an issue which the Council continues to campaign against.”
Mr Thomson chairs the council’s environment and transport committee, as well as the local transport partnership ZetTrans.
He said: “It’s very disappointing to hear of these proposals, given there have been no conversations between Hial and the SIC in recent years regarding this matter and no public engagement or consultation here in Shetland with regard to what is a lifeline service.
“There will be additional pressures on public transport, and a consultation would also have highlighted that.
“This will have an impact on the users of the airport, and place an additional financial burden on the people of Shetland who are simply trying to get on and off the island.
“There remain unanswered questions regarding these parking charges and the SIC will be looking to engage with Hial as soon as possible.”