In 2016 the Shetland Inter-Island Transport Study was published, with one of its recommendations including the development of an Outline Business Case covering the replacement of the Fair Isle Ferry.
In 2021 the Outline Business Case, for a replacement ferry on the Fair Isle route, was completed. The preferred option identified in the Business Case is the replacement of the Good Shepherd with a Ro-Ro vessel and the associated and required infrastructure.
The Strategic dimension of the Outline Business Case concluded that:
The current vessel Good Shepherd IV is over 30-years old and does not meet current accessibility standards.
It has a maximum of five-years (2021) remaining service life with some expenditure.
The service is unreliable and there are consequences of this in terms of:
- Supply-chain – e.g. import of fresh produce, export of goods etc.
- Service provision – e.g. providing health care and facilitating access to secondary school.
- Personal travel – e.g. missed appointments and limited opportunities on the mainland for Fair Isle residents.
- Visitors and tourists to Fair Isle, both in terms of the choice to visit the island and travel disruption en-route or on the return journey.
In a 2019 Fair Isle household survey, 2/3 of respondents indicated that aspects of the ferry service prevents more frequent travel to the mainland– more than half of respondents cited comfort, crossing time and the absence of Ro-Ro as key barriers to travelling more by ferry
The current crane-based operation:
- Poses a potential medium-term regulatory risk to the continuation of the service.
- Places limits on the weight / type of goods carried.
- Affects vessel turnaround times.
There is a local desire for improvements, as evidenced in the household survey:
- 85% did not think the current air and ferry connections to the mainland are sufficient for their family’s day-to-day needs, now and in future.
- 2/3 thought that connections were not sufficient for tourism – 3/4 wanted to see tourism develop further.
- 1/4 felt current connections were not sufficient to ensure long-term sustainability of Fair Isle.
- 80% felt that better connections would make Fair Isle more attractive for in-migrants.