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Readers’ letters: Officials need to give facts about Shetland tunnel connections

The ferry at Vidlin, Shetland
The ferry at Vidlin, Shetland

Sir, – This week our newly-elected councillors in Shetland will be starting their term in office and finding out which departments in the council they will be assigned to.

Whoever is assigned to transport will find themselves with a very difficult job to do, as they will have to deal with long-running issues in the inter-islands transport links.

In 2010, our councillors dismissed proposals for a replacement ferry service for the Whalsay route and instructed the officials to pursue the construction of a tunnel.

Despite this directive, SIC officials have presented “unsubstantiated reasons” to dismiss three separate offers “including offers of funding” for the construction of a Whalsay tunnel during those years and have alternatively continued consultations and investigations of various options for the renewal of ferries and terminals for the Whalsay routes.

During the past two decades SIC officials have presented controversial information in their reports to the councillors, with one report claiming that running ferries for 60 years is a cheaper alternative to running fixed links on certain routes.

When viewing the SIC transport figures from the most recent ferry service upgrade, built 18 years ago for £37.1 million instead of a tunnel for £26.9 to £32.5 million (Yell ferries 2015/16 running cost £5.8m, for 60 years equals £348m) compared to the estimated annual tunnel running costs figure (Yell £0.45m for 60 years equals £27m) the flaws in the figures used in the Zettrans calculations appear to be plainly obvious.

The construction cost for tunnels will have more than doubled during the past two decades – a Whalsay tunnel was priced at £76m in 2017.

There also appears to be an admission of using flawed data in the SIITS documents, which is shown at the end of the fixed link report.

The results of this 2016 project-specific bottom-up, construction cost-estimate exercise has indicated that the indices published by RICS, as used in the November 2015 cost updating process, were overly pessimistic and led to an overestimate in construction cost.

The difference between the UK and Norwegian construction cost-estimates can be attributed to a number of reasons, which include things as diverse as recent exchange rate discounts following Brexit, to greater efficiencies in tunnelling in Norway construction realised by the availability of a small highly multi-skilled workforce.

These “apparently” flawed figures were also used in the Whalsay transport link report, in the SIITS documents.

The SIC officials’ persistent defiance of the directives from our elected councillors and the majority of the Whalsay residents’ preference for a fixed link, which was confirmed by a transport poll in the community, should not be allowed to continue.

The conduct of officialdom at Zettrans over the past two decades must be thoroughly investigated, as it is patently obvious that the claims and figures for various transport options they have presented in reports to the councillors cannot compute.

Shetland’s transport system will not improve, until the people running Zettrans are forced to present facts instead of fiction in their reports to the councillors.

William Polson, North Park, Whalsay.

Challenges by FM to her followers?

Sir, – With interest I read the report about First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s speech at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

The article accurately quotes the first minister when she refers to the dangers of unjust energy policies which might play into the hands of populists and authoritarian leaders.

However, this was only one point among several. Before Ms Sturgeon turned to the issues of climate change and energy transition, she emphatically clarified her position on future defence policies of a potentially independent Scotland.

Referring to the war in Ukraine and the SNP’s decision in 2012 to support Nato membership, she said: “The events of the last three months have strengthened my conviction that this position is absolutely the right one.

I am firm in my view that – coupled with a strong relationship with the UK – membership of the EU and of Nato will be cornerstones of an independent Scotland’s security policy.” She added this would be the principal way an iScotland would “contribute to the collective security of our neighbours and allies”.

Maybe by making this unequivocal commitment she wanted to offer reassurances that the break-up of the UK wouldn’t turn Britain into a weak spot within the North Atlantic alliance. Yet it also may raise a few eyebrows among her anti-Nato, anti-UK supporters.

Another interesting point, made during the interview after her speech, was Ms Sturgeon’s idea of a just transition to low carbon energy and renewables.

She said: “We know that the world needs to move away from fossil fuels.

“The future of the planet depends on it, so we cannot simply go on extracting more and more fossil fuels but nor can those of us as countries that have had and still economically depend on oil and gas abandon those industries and the people who work in those industries.”

That sounds as if she is ultimately in favour of continuing oil and gas production in the North Sea. If so, one wonders what her opposition to granting North Sea oil and gas licences was all about.

Regina Erich, Willow Row, Stonehaven.

Shearer needs pair of glasses

Sir, – Can I kindly suggest that if Duncan Shearer saw only toilet rolls being thrown on to the pitch at Dingwall last Saturday, then on his next visit he should pay a visit to one of the two optician practices in the town, they’ll definitely be able to help you.

I don’t know how you could miss the dozens of orange smoke bombs, Duncan, which were thrown on to the pitch by mindless morons (they’re not football fans) which cause great damage to the wonderful playing surface.

Players and Dundee United officials, posing for selfies with the hundreds that invaded the pitch was disgraceful after fans had been told over the sound system to stay off the pitch. Even some Dundee United players were injured.

I think Malky Mackay’s assessment of things was much nearer the mark than your columnist – that type of behaviour has to stop.

D MacLean, Glenmorangie, Tain.

Small countries do well in this world

Sir, – I feel I must respond to George Emslie’s diatribe.

Firstly, he should be made aware I am not “a typical nationalist foot soldier”, simply a member of the public who expresses an opinion, based on what I see and hear on a daily basis. I have never been, nor will be, a member of any party.

He informs us of “scaremongering rubbish”, along with “a Venezuela style road to ruin.” Scaremongering, Mr Emslie?

Scotland runs a balance of payments surplus, England does not. A good starting point for an independent country. Nor do we have a “fiscal imbalance” approaching £3 trillion, although we will be required to finance 9% of that.

Small countries do rather well in today’s world. Denmark, Iceland, Ireland, New Zealand and Norway are not in the fiscally parlous state of the UK.

We then come to borders and currency: When the Republic of Ireland was created, free trade and movement were retained, along with Ireland using the pound for many years, before moving to the punt pegged to the pound, then the punt alone and now the euro.

Even when they opted to join the EU, there was no change in the arrangements between them and the UK. Why should Scotland be treated differently?

Mr Emslie and his compatriots may not like the fact support for Scottish independence is high, but it is a reality they have to accept and deal with rationally.

Ron Campbell, Richmond Walk, Aberdeen.

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