The council will discuss the possibility of a future tunnel linking Benbecula to the mainland.

The possibility of a road tunnel linking Benbecula and Skye will be discussed by councillors in the Western Isles when Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s full council meets on Wednesday evening.

By Peter Urpeth
Tuesday, 30th March 2021, 1:58 pm
Could a road tunnel be the answer?
Could a road tunnel be the answer?

A report due to go before the meeting says that Transport Scotland is in the process of concluding its strategy for investment in Scotland's transport infrastructure over the next 20 years in its ‘Strategic Transport Projects Review 2’ (STPR2), and states that ‘the potential for the tunnel...has emerged as an infrastructure option within STPR2’.

The report before councillors states that the Comhairle approved the draft Outer Hebrides Local Transport Strategy 2020-2030 (LTS) at its October 2020 series of meetings.

The report says that during further consultation with councillors on the LTS a request was made to arrange a Special Meeting of the Comhairle to consider inclusion ‘of reference to a Benbecula – Skye fixed link within the LTS’.

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But, the report states, during consultation on the LTS, ‘there was no indication’ of support for fixed links between the Outer Hebrides and mainland Scotland.

There was, however, the report adds, ‘interest in fixed links across the Sound of Harris and the Sound of Barra.

The report before councillors states ‘there are a number of important policy considerations’ to be assessed before the Comhairle ‘should adopt a definitive policy position on, among other matters, changing the connectivity of the Western Isles by ending the island status of the Western isles, or a part or parts of the Western Isles’, adding: ‘The work carried out during the course of developing the LTS did not identify fixed links to mainland Scotland as being of high priority to stakeholders. It has been recognised as a potential option within the STPR2 and that fact alone will be explored further with Transport Scotland, and the opportunities that this recognition may offer’.

The Comhairle's report also states that a full Islands impact assessment, would be required, 'in addition to extensive community engagement and consultation, were the Comhairle to be supportive of considering this issue in further detail'.

The report concludes: ‘In view of the significant policy implications of changing the external connectivity of the western Isles from air and sea to fixed links, it is recommended that, if the Comhairle is minded to pursue the issue further, a Members’ Seminar be arranged in the first instance’.

The Comhairle’s full council meets at 5pm tomorrow.