Fair Isle ferry awarded funding from UK government


Fair Isle will receive a new ferry as part of the UK government's Levelling Up Fund, which could see a Ro-Ro service operate to the island for the first time.

Nearly £27 million has been allocated towards the project through the fund, which will go towards providing a new, larger vessel and associated harbour infrastructure. The scheme would bring a larger vessel to the route and introduce a roll-on roll-off (Ro-Ro) ferry service to the island for the first time, allowing vehicular access to the island.

An additional passenger capacity of 12 is proposed, while the new vessel would also improve freight handling capability and increase accessibility. New linkspans are proposed at both Grutness, Mainland, and on Fair Isle.

Home to the world-famous Fair Isle Bird Observatory, the island lies midway between Shetland and Orkney and has a population of around 60 residents. The observatory was established to study bird migration on the island in 1948 and is currently undergoing a rebuild after the previous building burned down in 2019, with the first modules for the new building arriving in October 2022.

Funding will go towards providing a new, larger vessel and associated harbour infrastructure (Ronnie Robertson / Flickr).

Fair Isle's existing ferry, Good Shepherd IV, is reaching the end of its useful life as it is nearly 40 years old and does not meet current accessibility standards. It is small, slow and unreliable during poor weather conditions, impacting access to healthcare and schooling for islanders, as well as the import of goods and would-be visitors.

Shetland Islands Council leader Emma Macdonald said: "The impact of the loss of the ferry service from mainland Shetland to Fair Isle would be deeply profound, and without a new vessel the long-term sustainability of the island would be in doubt.

"It is no exaggeration to say that this funding from the UK government has saved Fair Isle as an inhabited island. There would have been no other way for us to sustainably fund such a project."

Shetland South councillor Alex Armitage of the Scottish Greens added: "With the green light for ferry replacement coming alongside the rebuild of the Fair Isle Bird Observatory, the future of Fair Isle looks bright. The wonderful folk of Fair Isle deserve nothing less."

The announcement was made on Wednesday [18 January], with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak saying the government aims to "build a future of optimism and pride in people's lives". Fair Isle is one of ten projects in Scotland to receive funding from the Levelling Up Fund, with a total of £3.8 billion awarded through the scheme so far.

However, it has been criticised for not giving devolved governments a role in selecting projects, while Labour has accused the government of presiding over a "Hunger Games-style contest where communities are pitted against one another."