The SIC has invited the UK and Scottish governments to attend crunch talks on tunnel funding – warning of a “material risk to lifeline services”.
Council leader Emma Macdonald said the summit would discuss the Shetland Short Crossings Project, which seeks to replace every ferry with either a new vessel or a tunnel.
It will also cover digitial connectivity and community benefit from renewable energy – also known as the Shetland Tariff.
The UK government’s Scottish secretary Alistair Jack has agreed to attend – First Minister Humza Yousaf has also been invited, with discussions ongoing.
The SIC said its crossings project was already at an “advanced stage” – highlighting the £700,000 it had committed to develop business cases for the tunnels.
It is now calling on the governments to show their commitment.
Proposals initially considered five tunnels serving Unst, Yell, Whalsay, Bressay and Fetlar -but the Fetlar tunnel has since been dropped.
Various funding options are being considered, including seeking UK government support for the North Isles tunnels, in recognition of their importance for the SaxaVord Spaceport.
Discussions are being held with the Scottish government to assist with the tunnels on the east side.
Mrs Macdonald said: “The importance of the interisland transport network to life in Shetland cannot be overestimated. It is the very definition of a lifeline service, and is the social and economic backbone of the islands.
“However, there are a handful of vessels which are already operating past their intended lifespan.
“If they are not replaced now, either by tunnels or new ferries, there is a material risk to lifeline services to Shetland’s islands.
The leader acknowledged the costs of tunnels could not fall solely on governments – but appealed for a fair partnership in which everyone benefits.
Just as our islands’ incredible energy resources should be a shared benefit between Shetland, Scotland and the UK, the transportation between those islands should be a shared cost.
She said the “time has now come for both the Scottish and UK governments to make clear the level of their commitment to our partnership”.
The council has produced its Shetland Forward document to lobby the governments on these key issues.
Shetland’s inter-island ferry service is the social and economic backbone of the islands, with a fleet of 12 vessels sailing around 70,000 times a year to nine islands, carrying roughly 750,000 passengers.
However, the fleet is, on average, over 30 years old – almost six years older than the average Caledonian MacBrayne vessel.
A number of ferries are already operating beyond their intended life, and are a major contributor to the islands’ carbon emissions.
Read the document here: www.shetland.gov.uk/downloads/file/7155/shetland-forward