‘Technical assessment’ finds fixed link plan ‘impractical’

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Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth.

Transport Scotland confirmed the orcadian this morning that proposals for a bridge between Orkney and the Scottish mainland are no longer being considered, following a report by The temperature yesterday.

In response to this, Orkney MSP Liam McArthur said that “there is debate to be had about what role fixed links could play in the future”.

However, alongside Northern Isles representatives Alistair Carmichael MP and Beatrice Wishart MSP, he criticized the Scottish Government for developing the Fixed Link plans without consulting local people.

It was reported by The temperature that plans were underway for a bridge linking South Ronaldsay and Gills Bay, as part of a wider Transport Scotland investment scheme.

According to a spokeswoman for Transport Scotland, the project has progressed through a “preliminary assessment stage”.

However, it was later ruled out at the ‘retail stage’ following a technical assessment of the options for a 15 km tunnel and a 12 km bridge, which found both to be impractical.

The issue was raised during Prime Minister’s Questions by Highlands and Islands MP Donald Cameron.

Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth said the second Strategic Transport Project Review (STPR2) “did not recommend further work on developing the business case for this proposed fixed link after it had been reviewed at the detailed assessment stage”.

She said: “A technical assessment of the shortest possible alternative road tunnel and bridge option, which measured 15km and 12km respectively, concluded that both options were currently unfeasible.

“The tunnel for fire safety reasons and the bridge because of the potential span length required over the deepest part of the water.

“Furthermore, while the STPR2 change case for the Highlands and Islands region highlighted issues related to the resilience of island connections, no analysis undertaken as part of the STPR2 process supported the conclusion that a fixed link connection between the Orkney Islands and the Scottish mainland would solve this strategic problem.

“Instead, STPR2 Recommendation 24 recommends the renewal and replacement of Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services and Northern Isles Ferry Services vessels, including gradual decarbonization by 2045.”

Responding to the news, Mr McArthur said: “Orkney’s aging in-house ferry fleet urgently needs replacing but Scottish Ministers say it has nothing to do with them. As a result, islanders face delays, disruptions and are often not even able to access their vital services. On the Pentland Firth routes, SNP promises on RET are still not delivered, keeping the cost of travel on these routes unnecessarily high.

“Meanwhile, through Freedom of Information, we learn that the Scottish Government has been busy working on plans to build a bridge over the Pentland Firth. Although these plans have now been abandoned, it is remarkable that no engagement has taken place with the local community.

“There is a debate to be had about the role fixed links can play in the future, but it is not a debate that can take place in secret between SNP ministers and their officials.”

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