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Yell and Unst Tunnel Action Groups release report on Faroese findings

A report released today following Yell and Unst Tunnel Action Groups’ recent visit to the Faroe Islands highights a series of potential social and economic benefits should the Shetland projects go ahead. These include the growth of local communities, increased employment and leisure opportunities, retention of the population, housing development, improved capacity for the movement of perishable foodstuffs, and a positive impact on the move to carbon neutrality.

The report, ‘Subsea Tunnels. Are We Crazy?’, explores how tunnels have impacted on the Faroe Islands and provides comparisons between the two island groups in terms of geology, socio-economic and environmental factors, and issues relating to funding.

Joint chair of Unst Tunnel Action Group, Alice Mathewson, said: “The four-day fact-finding visit revealed that 11 per cent of the entire Faroese road network is underground, and from December this year, the Faroes will have 22 tunnels, four of which are subsea.

“The overwhelming message we received there was that if you are serious about a tunnel project, the first step must be to map the geology, which is the cornerstone of the work we intend to undertake. The geology of the Faroes differs from that of Shetland but the underlying principles of the work to be undertaken and data to be collected remain the same.

“We now intend to seek data that already exists: that commissioned by Shetland Islands Council, as well as the oil, renewables, and fisheries industries and service providers, including those laying subsea cables. This will help to inform our geological investigations.

“Our target during the initial phase of our fundraising is to undertake these investigations up to geotechnical cores. Should we achieve this, we will then move forward to seek funding for bore holes and horizontal drilling on both sounds. This should provide the necessary data for any potential developer to take the project forward.”

Opportunities for growth

Joint chair of Yell Tunnel Action Group, Steven Henderson, said: “It is evident from the Faroese experience that the introduction of tunnels would provide opportunities for growth and development for our communities and the wider economy, as well as assist in our journey towards carbon neutrality. It will also help to rebalance the incessant centralisation of both services and population.

“Both the Faroese and Shetland economies have traditionally been highly dependent on fisheries. In Shetland there is a higher proportionate dependency on the seafood industry in Unst and Yell, accounting for a third of all employment and half of all male jobs. The importance to the economy of moving time-sensitive, perishable seafood cannot be overstated, yet it is reliant on a ferry service that can be restricted due to ferry timetabling and service suspension. This is a significant burden for businesses and service providers, limiting both economic activity and workforce mobility.

“Supporting, diversifying, and broadening our economic base is imperative for the survival and growth of our communities. Put simply, we wish to ensure the islands of Unst and Yell continue to be amazing places in which to live, work, visit, and invest, and we believe that a major way of achieving this is through permanent fixed transport links, ie tunnels.”

Exploring potential funding routes

The Action Groups also found that the funding of subsea tunnels through public/private partnership, utilising both public investment and publicly sourced/guaranteed loans, financed by toll payments, works well in the Faroes.

Joint chair of Yell Tunnel Action Group, Graham Hughson, said: “We have never suggested that tunnels to Unst and Yell should either be fully publicly funded nor toll free. We would like all potential funding routes to be explored, and we believe that the Faroese model is one that should be examined in more detail.”

Joint chair of Unst Tunnel Action Group, Duncan Gray, said: “Understandably, there can be a fear of the unknown from those who are not familiar with this type of project. We now need to foster the political will to explore and back a project with beneficial long-term outcomes.

“Ultimately it comes down to risk. The costs for tunnels currently being quoted within political circles in the UK are far beyond those quoted to us by Faroese and Norwegian tunnelling experts. We believe that a lot of the risk and uncertainty can be reduced through geological investigation. That is why we are centring our efforts on geological studies in order to get a better understanding and more realistic costing for tunnels to serve our islands.

“There is also no guarantee that the Scottish Government will continue to fund the deficit which they currently commit to our ferry service, nor is there any plan, realistic costing, or budget in place for ferry replacement. Even if these were to appear, our communities will face the same ongoing situation every 20 to 30 years. Therefore, on that basis alone, we believe that the option of constructing tunnels is forward thinking and economically sound.”

Alice Mathewson concluded: “We very much hope that our findings will help to inform others and would strongly encourage those who can, particularly our decision makers, to read our report and take a trip to the Faroe Islands to see for themselves what can and has been achieved.

“The ‘Are we crazy?’ was inspired by a geologist we met in Faroe who said “Back in the 1980’s when we first started to speak about subsea tunnels, I thought we were crazy, but look what we’ve achieved.” We very much hope that we will soon be able to reflect back in a similar vein.”

To read the full report, please see and to contribute to this essential phase of investigations and support the sub-sea tunnel projects for Unst and Yell, visit

Further information:
Isabel Johnson, 07831 611990,