Building tunnels to link two islands to the Shetland mainland could help communities and the economy develop and support the move towards carbon neutrality, according to a report.
The Yell and Unst tunnel action groups published the Subsea Tunnels. Are We Crazy? report following a visit to the Faroe Islands to explore the impact of the tunnel system there.
It found that in the Faroes, where around 11% of the entire road network is now underground, there appears to have had a positive impact on communities and the economy.
The groups are investigating the possibility of connecting the Unst and Yell to mainland Shetland through tunnels in Yell Sound and Bluemull Sound.
Steven Henderson, joint chairman of Yell Tunnel Action Group, said: “It is evident from the Faroese experience that the introduction of tunnels would provide opportunities for growth and development for our communities and the wider economy, as well as assist in our journey towards carbon neutrality.
“It will also help to rebalance the incessant centralisation of both services and population.
“Both the Faroese and Shetland economies have traditionally been highly dependent on fisheries. In Shetland there is a higher proportionate dependency on the seafood industry in Unst and Yell, accounting for a third of all employment and half of all male jobs.
“The importance to the economy of moving time-sensitive, perishable seafood cannot be overstated, yet it is reliant on a ferry service that can be restricted due to ferry timetabling and service suspension.
“This is a significant burden for businesses and service providers, limiting both economic activity and workforce mobility.
“Supporting, diversifying, and broadening our economic base is imperative for the survival and growth of our communities.”
From December this year, the Faroes will have 22 tunnels, four of which are subsea.
The report highlighted the importance of mapping the geology as geological conditions affect tunnel design, construction, and maintenance.
Unst is connected to Yell and Yell to mainland Shetland by ferry.
Joint chair of Unst Tunnel Action Group, Alice Mathewson, said: “The overwhelming message we received there was that if you are serious about a tunnel project, the first step must be to map the geology, which is the cornerstone of the work we intend to undertake.
“The geology of the Faroes differs from that of Shetland but the underlying principles of the work to be undertaken and data to be collected remain the same.
“We now intend to seek data that already exists: that commissioned by Shetland Islands Council, as well as the oil, renewables, and fisheries industries and service providers, including those laying subsea cables. This will help to inform our geological investigations.
“Our target during the initial phase of our fundraising is to undertake these investigations up to geotechnical cores. Should we achieve this, we will then move forward to seek funding for bore holes and horizontal drilling on both sounds.
“This should provide the necessary data for any potential developer to take the project forward.”
The research also found the funding of subsea tunnels through public/private partnership, using both public investment and publicly sourced/guaranteed loans, financed by toll payments, works well in the Faroes.
The report explains its Are We Crazy? title was inspired by a geologist the groups met in the Faroes who said: “Back in the 1980s when we first started to speak about subsea tunnels, I thought we were crazy, but look what we’ve achieved.”
The report states: “We hope that, shortly, we will be able to say something similar about our islands.”
The groups are raising money towards geo-technical, socio-economic and environmental investigations for the project with a crowdfunder at https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/p/unst-yell-tunnel-action-groups-fundraiser-1.