Local politicians not won over by transport priorities report

DISAPPOINTING and lacking ambition – these are two terms which have been used by local politicians about a report on future transport investment which has been published by the Scottish Government.

There is also continued criticism that fixed links for Shetland do not feature in the government’s Strategic Transport Projects Review (STPR2).

The report is intended to inform transport investment in Scotland for the next 20 years.

The final version contains 45 recommendations – 38 of which are underway already – but only three are said to be particularly relevant to Shetland.

These include a recommendation around the “renewal and replacement” of Northern Isles ferry service vessels including progressive decarbonisation by 2045.

There is also a recommendation for investment in port infrastructure, including power supplies, and supporting integrated journeys between travel modes from ferry terminals.

The report does highlight a number transport ‘problems’ for Shetland, including capacity on the boats, affordability, emissions and depopulation.

Scottish cabinet secretary for net zero, energy and transport Michael Matheson said delivering the level of investment set out in STPR2 will “enhance accessibility for residents, visitors and businesses, improve connectivity with sustainable, smart and cleaner transport options, and highlight the vital contribution transport can make to Scotland’s economic growth”.

But Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart has not been won over when it comes to her constituency.

She said the mention of 2045 for replacing the current diesel powered NorthLink ferries showed a “lack of ambition”.

“The Northern Isles needs reliable, modern, decarbonised ferries for our lifeline route,” she said.

“With new freight vessels already delayed, and the chaotic delays to replacement ferries on the Western Isles route, the Scottish Government’s track record does not inspire confidence.

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart. Photo: Shetland News.

“Recommendations have been put forward by Transport Scotland for fixed links projects for a number of areas.

“However, Shetland is conspicuous by its absence, despite the fact that Shetland’s island communities have been vocal in their support for fixed links, notably with the recent establishment of fixed link action groups.

“I have invited the Scottish Government’s transport minister to meet with local fixed link and tunnel action groups to listen to the needs of Shetland’s communities regarding inter-island fixed links.”

Meanwhile Shetland Islands Council’s environment and transport committee chair Moraig Lyall was also left disappointed.

There is an undertaking to improve port infrastructure and introduce integrated ticketing to ‘enhance the traveller experience’ but unless they get the essentials, that is the vessels, right it’s hard to see how the service will improve,” she said.

In response a Transport Scotland spokesperson reiterated that in the government’s view the replacement of inter-island ferries in Shetland with fixed links such as tunnels was “out of scope” because they are run by the council.

“However we recognise the importance of these internal services to the Northern Isles and have provided local authorities with over £136 million of investment in the last five years to support their operation,” they said.

“For this financial year more than £33 million has been made available, including over £17 million for Shetland Islands Council.

“Our decarbonisation target of 2045 represents a key milestone in the ongoing programme replacing vessels in the fleet.

“We continue to explore future capacity and connectivity to and from the Northern Isles while CMAL and NorthLink continue to look for suitable second hand tonnage that could be added to the Northern Isles fleet in the interim until new vessels are introduced. 

“A number of general recommendations will have particular benefit for Shetland and we look forward to working with stakeholders, locals and community groups to progress these further.”

Shetland News