A UK minister’s idea of replacing ferries with undersea tunnels received a terse response from the office of Transport Secretary Jenny Gilruth.
During a “study” visit to the Faroe Islands, Scottish Minister Iain Stewart said talks should also start in the Orkney and Shetland archipelagos, “given the timescales for these types of projects”.
It comes after the Scottish Government said it was exploring building fixed links in the Western Isles and between Mull and the mainland.
There are currently four tunnels on the Faroe Islands – including the world’s first underwater roundabout – and a fifth under construction, all replacing old ferry routes and dramatically reducing travel time to outlying islands.
The Scotland Office minister met officials in the Faroe Islands to discuss the huge infrastructure project and suggested similar proposals could be used in Scotland.
The Minister acknowledged the projects would ‘not be cheap’, saying the Faroe Islands project cost up to £12.5m per mile.
A Scottish transport spokesperson, Jenny Gilruth, said: ‘Given transport is a devolved issue, it’s no wonder Iain Stewart has plenty of free time, traveling to the Faroe Islands during a cost crisis of life.
“Island communities will be intrigued by the facts the MP for Milton Keynes has collected.”
The spokesperson added: “If Mr Stewart wishes to share any of the facts he has gathered on his trip, the Scottish Government would be more than willing to hear them, grateful, as Mr Stewart will of course respect. , that transport is decentralized. ”
The UK minister is expected to hold talks with government and SNP officials about the potential of the idea.
The Scottish government has already planned to create bridges or tunnels between the islands, including between the Scottish mainland and Mull, to “improve community access to goods and services”.
The proposal revealed in January aims to replace ferries with fixed links 26 years after the opening of the Skye Bridge was mired in controversy.
Net Zero Energy and Transport Secretary Michael Matheson said the plan could see another crossing to Mull, which has been hit by ferry disruptions. A bridge linking Oban to the nearest community of Mull would be around ten miles long.
He also spoke of a fixed link plan between North and South Uist and Lewis and Harris.
According to Mr Stewart, there were limits to the connection of certain islands to the Scottish mainland.
But he said: “As the distances between some islands are quite small, for example between Unst and Yell in Shetland, this could be a viable option.”
He added: “It won’t be cheap, but it’s in contrast to building several new ferries, not just once but – given that these tunnels would be there for many, many years – probably two or three construction cycles of ferries.”
While local objections, costs and logistics could prove to be hurdles, Mr Stewart said the experience in the Faroe Islands “shows it can be done”.
The British government spent £900,000 on an expert assessment of the so-called Boris Bridge, which was either a bridge or a tunnel that would link Scotland to Northern Ireland, before determining that it would cost up to £200 billion to make, and could require feats of engineering not yet developed. It has been described by some critics as “the dumbest tunnel in the world”.
One idea involved as many as three tunnels running from England and Scotland with a roundabout under the Isle of Man in a bid to address post-Brexit issues across the UK.
It took just under six years and 13,000 workers to build the Channel Tunnel, which opened in 1993. The total cost was £4.65 billion, or more than £12 billion pounds sterling in current silver, according to Eurostar.
Mr Stewart suggested the funding could come from a combination of money from the Scottish Government and the UK Leveling Up fund. He even suggested tolls.
“If these tunnels are built, you’re looking at multiple generations of durability,” he said.
“Environmentally, this is an advantage, especially since everyone is electrifying their motorized transport.
“Maritime transport is one of the most polluting means of transport.
Sigurd Lamhauge, chief executive of the Faroe Islands transport authority Landsverk, said: “The tunnels have led to increased income, better access to healthcare and education, better journey times and more people staying on the islands. They have made some positive changes and I think something similar would have the potential to do the same in places like Orkney and Shetland.