Green light for first step in £500m tunnels plan

Councillors have approved  the first step in £500 million plans for fixed links – and urged officials to make it a “priority of priorities”.

The SIC’s environment and transport committee today (Tuesday) gave the green light to progress the “Shetland Inter-Island Transport Connectivity” report.

Members heard the report could cost up to £700,000 and take an estimated 18-months to complete.

Committee chairwoman Moraig Lyall said many members had been “dreaming” of this moment after months of discussions.

She said it was “just the first step in a lengthy process” that would consider tunnels and ferries across the network.

While acknowledging the SIC had a “heap of priorities”, she urged development director Neil Grant to consider fixed links the “priority of priorities”.

Mr Grant’s report set out some of the financial background, including the £23m current annual cost of inter-island ferry services, which has been covered by the Scottish government for next year and the £120-150m estimated cost of vessel replacements over the next 10-15 years.

The report estimates the cost of building five tunnels – serving Unst, Yell, Bressay, Whalsay and Fetlar – at around £500m.

Mr Grant told the meeting the costs were not intended as a comparison.

Lerwick South member Dennis Leask welcomed Mr Grant’s clarification, as he said the finances were potentially “misleading” – giving the impression ferries were cheaper than fixed links.

He said the figures had been picked up by tunnel action groups as evidence of an “anti-tunnels culture” at the SIC.

Mrs Lyall asked for assurances the new report would superseded the “controversial” Shetland Inter Island Transport Study (Siits), which drew conclusions favouring ferries over fixed links when published in 2016.

Lerwick North and Bressay member Arwed Wenger said financial comparisons should take into account the 120-year lifespan of tunnels.

He said such a period would cover the lifespan of four ferries – or eight on services operating two vessels.

North Isles member Robert Thomson asked Mr Grant to ensure the tunnel action groups would be included in the process.

Mr Grant said the report would be funded from the council’s revenues from the Crown Estate assets.

It will cover surveys, reports and procurement of services such as project management.

The proposal will be discussed again at policy and resources this afternoon and at tomorrow’s full council meeting.


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