Bluemull Sound Consultation (2008)

Shetland’s Transport Partnership, ZetTrans, has undertaken a study to examine options for transport links across Bluemull Sound, connecting the island communities of Unst, Fetlar and Yell. This work aimed to identify the best option(s) for the long-term and will take a similar format to the ongoing studies for Whalsay and Bressay.

Shetland’s Transport Strategy proposes a detailed investigation of the Bluemull Sound transport links alongside a separate but related study examining the potential for fixed links within Shetland. Whilst the feasibility of a Yell-Unst fixed link has yet to be determined, the Bluemull Sound STAG study will consider emerging outcomes from the fixed link study, and identify the most efficient and appropriate options accordingly.

The aim of the study has been:

'To identify means of providing sustainable efficient transport links across Bluemull Sound for the long-term and identify the most appropriate actions to carry forward to implementation for the benefit of Shetland as a whole.'

In order to assist in the detailed examination of the problems and opportunities regarding transport links between Yell, Unst and Fetlar, members of the public were invited to contribute to the study. Public meetings were held in each of the North Isles, and all households received information on how they could get involved, including completing and submitting questionnaires. Community groups, businesses and young people were also provided with opportunities to get involved. Others were encouraged to respond via email or in writing:

11 Hill Lane,

Information available from previous consultations can be found here

The Summary of the consultation can be found here and full document

The Executive Summary and Full Copy of the Report of the first stage of the study (STAG 1) is also available.

The study has now concluded, with the following key findings, conclusions and recommendations to ZetTrans and Council:

a. At present, there is a significant risk of severe and costly disruption on the route should either the terminals or the ferries fail to be able to operate for legislative reasons or deterioration in condition. This would have particularly detrimental consequences for the communities of Unst and Fetlar.

b. Taking into account the outcomes of the appraisal, and issues such as risk and deliverability, Option 2 (replacement of Gutcher and Belmont terminals and MV Bigga and MV Geira,plus the development of a Fetlar breakwater) has emerged as the most favourable of the options considered within the appraisal.

c. In combination with proposals for a small berth facility, the provision of a breakwater at Fetlar provides an opportunity to deliver a more reliable, and more island centred service to this island, as well as to Unst, with associated socio-economic benefits. In particular, this could secure significant additional accessibility benefits to both islands, subject to issues of crewing / operational sustainability being addressed.

  • There is the potential for the development of a single bore, single lane tunnel to be constructed. Sensitivity testing has confirmed that this has the potential to outperform the range of options that have been included within the appraisal. However, this option has not been subject to community consultation, risk assessment, or engineering feasibility work.

Conclusions and Implementation

  • The option that performs best in the Bluemull Sound STAG process is Option 2. In effect this means replacing the current infrastructure and ferries to meet the needs of the islands for the foreseeable future, and developing a breakwater on Fetlar.
  • However, it is recognised that this option does not entirely meet the expectations of the communities and this prompted consideration of a single bore, single lane tunnel option (controlled by traffic lights) which, if technically and operationally feasible, out performs all other options due to significantly lower capital costs than the single bore two lane tunnel option.
  • Since it is not operationally imperative that the planning and design of terminals and ferries on Bluemull Sound starts immediately, there is an opportunity to explore a single bore, single lane tunnel further and report back to Members before the end of this financial year whether or not this is a viable alternative to the ferry.
  • Once this is done the final decision will be included in an implementation plan that covers Bluemull Sound, Whalsay and Bressay to provide the Council with the information it needs to prioritise these projects against other projects in the Council’s Capital Programme.
  • The Fetlar breakwater should be progressed independently of a decision regarding a fixed link between Yell and Unst.

The Executive Summary and Full Report are now available.

Since reporting the findings, there has been a change in approach to the third conclusion. This is as a result of advice from tunnel consultants and from current learning on the Bressay Tunnel Project.

At this stage, there are many unknowns associated with the project, which can not be resolved by further research on this specific project at this time. The main reason for this is that the acceptance of the principle of drill and blast tunnels in Shetland needs to be established before we can confidently explore the specifics of a single lane tunnel. This will only become clear in the coming months with the work on the Bressay Tunnel Project and a Council decision as to whether to proceed, which will be taken in March/April. Based on what is now known, it would not be good use of Council resources to undertake any further work on a single lane tunnel until after this time.

The Head of Transprot has committed to put a report to Council in early 2009 which sets out the priority of the Bluemull, Bressay and Whalsay links. In this report he will be asking members to acknowledge that the way forward for the Bluemull Link could change from a ferries/ terminals based solution to a fixed link based solution depending on whether they wish to pursue a tunnel to Bressay and if so, what we learn in the course of developing and delivering that project.

In overall terms, this course of action does not delay the implementation of the next generation transport link on Bluemull Sound because there would be no immediate plan to replace ferries and terminals on Bluemull Sound immediately.

If you have any queries or questions please get in touch with ZetTrans.