Urgent calls have been made for increased capacity on the NorthLink service after transport bosses once again failed to come with any funding guarantees.
ZetTrans chairwoman Moraig Lyall quizzed Transport Scotland and NorthLink on the schedule for new freighter-plus vessels, which are hoped to ease the worsening challenges.
Timescales have already been knocked back from initial estimates when it had been hoped the two vessels could enter service as early as 2026.
When asked for the latest estimates at today’s external transport forum, Transport Scotland’s Chris Wilcock highlighted the “challenging” finances affecting all sectors of government.
He said modelling for the freighter-plus vessels – which could have space for up to 200 passengers – would be taking place in October or November, which would help inform the business case.
However, Mr Wilcock again admitted funding was only available to get the vessels “shovel ready”- echoing similar comments made last December.
When pushed by Mrs Lyall to say more about the timeline, he repeated his comments about the financial challenges, adding that there were many “pressing needs” across the ferry network.
“The key focus is to get the vessel designs and business cases shovel ready so they can either work through in the current budget rounds or future budget rounds,” he added.
ZetTrans member Andrew Gear, who is also head of business growth at HIE Shetland, asked when the vessels were likely to become “shovel ready”.
He was told it would be “some point next year at the earliest”.
Mrs Lyall said it was disappointing Mr Wilcock had not come to the meeting with “money in your back pocket” for new vessels – although she acknowledged that was not a realistic expectation.
“We just need to keep making the case that these are very important developments for our community and the sooner they are in service the better,” she said.
Mrs Lyall said they were important for everyone in Shetland from businesses through to families looking to get away.
She repeated her calls after NorthLink managing director Stuart Garrett made his presentation, which highlighted increased passenger numbers and greater demand for cabins and car deck space.
Mrs Lyall said it had clearly been a very busy summer for NorthLink and “that’s not going to ease up any time soon”.
“It looks like you have managed to cope reasonably well with everything that has been thrown at you,” she said.
“Obviously, there are many people in the community who would liked to have travelled on different days that weren’t available, young families or elderly people who ended up without a cabin and for whom that is an issue.
“So this all goes back to the need for additional capacity from the freighter-plus vessels as soon as possible.
“Because I personally don’t see the demand reducing.
“As one major project in Shetland comes to an end there seems to be a couple of others coming along on its heels.
“And so I don’t think we are going to be seeing easing off in the demand for space on the NorthLink in the near future.”