Final decision delayed on whether Shetland ferry cuts will go ahead

Northlink Ferries. Picture: Neil Hanna
Northlink Ferries. Picture: Neil Hanna
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SHETLAND Islands Council today announced that the authority is to delay making a final decision on controversial ferry service cuts until January in the face of growing public opposition to the proposals.

The council had been expected to meet next month to discuss plans to slash ferry services to the Shetland isles in a bid to combat a growing financial crisis.

But a final decision on the issue is now to be held over until a special meeting of the islands council in January.

A council spokeswoman said: “The SIC’s review of Shetland’s ferry services began in February 2012, initially with a target of saving £1.7million. Since that time, the financial constraints facing the council have significantly increased, and that target has risen to around £3million

“Two rounds of public meetings have been held around the isles. That extensive period of consultation has just come to an end, and a significant volume of feedback has been received from individuals, communities and businesses. In addition, the review will include traffic modelling and economic studies, and a wider socio-economic study of the council’s overall proposals.

“Given the level of concern expressed by the communities involved around the speed of this process, and the need for Councillors to fully understand the potential impact on the islands’ social and business life, it has been decided that a final decision on the issue will be held over till a special SIC meeting in January.”

Councillor Allan Wishart, the chairman of the council’s Environment and Transport Committee, said: “I think this is a prudent decision. While the continued uncertainty about the future of the service is regrettable, our communities have engaged really well with the latest consultation and we owe it to them to make sure their responses are thoroughly analysed before the review can be finalised.

“I recognise that postponing a debate and final decision puts significant pressure on those officers who are working towards setting next year’s budgets; however, it is critical that both the community and Councillors are content that every aspect of this issue has been investigated and considered before any final decisions are made. I’d like to thank everyone who has taken part in the consultation, and those officers who’ve worked so hard on this project.”

The proposals include reducing ferry timetables, cutting the numbers of ferry crews and axing one of the two ferries on the Yell Sound route, which currently costs the islands council £3.7 million a year. The council is also proposing to end the free ferry service on the Bluemull Sound run which links Unst and Fetlar with Yell.

At a public meeting in Unst earlier this month islanders called on councillors to take no action which could jeopardise the island’s booming summer tourist trade, impede commuting to Sullom Voe or drive lucrative aquaculture businesses away from the North Isles.