Speaking in a debate on major infrastructure funding led by fellow Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse on Wednesday afternoon, Mr Carmichael noted the local and national strategic interest in fixed links in the isles, and the potential benefit to cutting carbon emissions in the long term. He called on the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, Gareth Davies, who was responding to the debate, to meet with a delegation in the future to see how the Treasury could support the business case. Mr Davies agreed to look into the matter further.
Speaking in the debate Mr Carmichael said:
“Following on from the Tunnel Vision roadshows that we ran in the summer of last year, as we suggested, communities set up tunnel action groups to decide how they could make the case. The case for a big infrastructure project like that, for a small community, is always that it should basically be designed by the community itself. The Unst and Yell tunnel action groups have already obtained pledges in the region of £100,000 towards the £200,000 that they think might be necessary to get the first stage of a feasibility study.
“The project will have not just local strategic importance, but national significance. Unst will probably be the earliest and most effective spaceport in the United Kingdom that is capable of doing vertical as opposed to horizontal launches. The people behind the SaxaVord spaceport in Unst tell me every week that fixed links will be critical to their ability to exploit to the maximum the potential of the project in which they are investing.
“There is also the question of the carbon cost. In the medium to long term, tunnels will always be much more carbon-efficient than ferries, with respect both to running costs and to ongoing replacements.
“The Treasury has a pot of money that is currently set aside as a consequence of the [former Prime Minister’s] wish to build a bridge from south-west Scotland to Northern Ireland. The money still sits there in a ringfenced pot, so if the Minister wants to give me a commitment to fund tunnels for Shetland, I will be delighted to take it.
“What we are looking for at the moment is a bit of willingness from the Treasury to engage with our community. Might the Minister agree to meet me and a delegation from the Shetland communities and the Shetland Islands Council to hear their intentions and hear what they want to do to make this happen? A small amount of Treasury money at this stage, to establish the case with scientific and technical rigour in a way that as a community we may be unable to do for ourselves, could be transformative in future.”