Long distance walking route could bring ‘significant’ social and economic benefits

A PROPOSED new long-distance walking route which would run the length of Shetland could generate £41 million for the local economy over the next decade, a feasibility study has concluded.

The report on the potential ‘Shetland Way’ has also predicted that over a 10-year period the route could be used by 600,000 visitors and create 52 additional tourism-related jobs.

The next step in the process would be to form an outline business case for the project. The projected overall cost of delivery (excluding labour) ranges from £2.9 million to £8.2 million depending on the scale.

The estimated maintenance cost of the preferred route alignment is around £165,000 per annum, and this includes work like drainage, mowing and litter picking.

Running over 100 miles from Hermaness in the north down to Sumburgh Head in the south, the Shetland Way would link the archipelago’s natural, cultural and community assets with the aim of bringing social, economic and environmental benefits to the islands.

As well as being used by both tourists and locals, the route could provide a welcome boost to local businesses and facilities.

The study has been developed by VisitScotland, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Shetland Islands Council, NatureScot and Shetland Tourism Association.

Based on feedback from stakeholders and the public, the feasibility study – conducted by consultants Stantec – highlighted a number of potential benefits including increased footfall in communities, shops and visitor attractions, positive health and social impacts, new business opportunities and the ability to attract people to Shetland.

The report states that the proposed project would “provide significant stimulus to Shetland’s visitor economy and deliver an important community asset that provides valuable accessibility, health and wellbeing benefits”.

The 96-mile West Highland Way from Milngavie north of Shetland to Fort William for instance is popular with walkers, bringing a boost to the local economy as a result, and it is thought that Shetland’s landscape could work for a similar project.

An indicative route.

A preferred route has been identified which splits the project into nine sections.

They are Sumburgh to Sandwick, Sandwick to Scalloway, Scalloway to Aith, Aith to Brae, Brae to Toft, Ulsta to Mid Yell, Mid Yell to Gutcher, Belmont to Baltasound and Baltasound to Hermaness.

The report says: “The preferred route sections tend to pass through existing communities rather than more remote parts of Shetland because they align well with the objectives of contributing to thriving communities and encouraging a greater spread of tourism related business.”

Although based on one linear route running north-south, there is also the possibility of including additional ‘loop-routes’, designed to run through specific communities or ‘visitor hubs’.

These include Scalloway to Lerwick, routes beyond Brae into the North Mainland and Aith to the west.

As the final route has now been confirmed, potential land ownership issues are not fully understood yet.

However, “initial discussions have been held with Viking Energy Wind Farm (VEWF) and SSE Renewables (SSER) who are key landowners and are keen to actively engage with the Steering Group to discuss the proposals for the Shetland Way”.

When it comes to accessibility, an equality impact assessment would updated throughout and consider “protected characteristics groups”.

VisitScotland’s Shetland development manager Steve Mathieson said: “The findings of this study are hugely encouraging and really demonstrate the significant social and economic benefits this exciting new route could bring.

“Walking is by far the most popular activity enjoyed by visitors. Couple that with Shetland’s renowned natural beauty and there is real potential here to create an iconic new sustainable travel experience on the islands.

“Not only would this help attract more visitors to Shetland but it also supports our ambitions to be a leading destination for responsible tourism.

“As a project group we’ll consider the outcome of the feasibility study in more detail and look at how best to progress with the next stage of the project, which will be to build an outline business case.”

Fiona Stirling, head of enterprise support at HIE’s Shetland area team said: “With a diverse range of high-quality community-based visitor attractions throughout Shetland, tourism is important to the islands’ economy.

“A Shetland Way would enable rural heritage centres, accommodation providers, cafes and local shops along the route to reap economic and social benefits. The results of the feasibility study show the potential for the route to increase tourism spend, create jobs and enable visitors as well as local people to enjoy a rich cultural experience.”

NatureScot’s Shetland operations officer Juan Brown added: “The Shetland Way would present a great opportunity for people to experience Shetland’s outstanding wildlife and landscape, whilst doing their bit in helping mitigate climate change by ditching the car. Access to nature and exercise in the outdoors has many proven benefits to physical and mental health.”

Shetland News