Middle East fund ‘interested’ in Hebridean tunnels, says MP

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An Isles MP says an idea to replace ferries with inter-island tunnels has come closer to reality, with an Abu Dhabi investment company showing interest in backing it.

Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP Angus MacNeil, chairman of the House of Commons International Trade Committee, met with the Mubadala group of this week and the issue of ferry replacement inter-island tunnels was raised.

Mr MacNeil informed the group that the Scottish Government were consulting on inter-island tunnels and received ‘an instantly positive response’.

He said: ‘They mentioned they were aware there was plenty of opportunities in Scotland in offshore wind and when I told them the Scottish Government was also consulting on inter-island tunnels, they showed immediate interest.

‘The deputy chief executive Waleed Al Mokarrab Al Muhairi said: “That’s it, we are going to Scotland”.’

MacNeil said the project could follow the Faroese model, where ferry replacement tunnels up to 10km long linking islands are paid and financed by pension funds in Canada and sovereign wealth funds elsewhere.

He said that as the tunnels would be a replacement for inter-island ferries, they would have fares in the way that ferries do and pointed out that the tunnels in the Faroes were already paying themselves off, with one paid off in 12 years instead of the expected 25. The Faroes are now building their fourth tunnel which is almost complete.

He added: ‘The tunnels could be priced over 25 years and would be cheaper than the ferries are at the moment, plus they are available all the time regardless of the weather.

‘If there was a return on the investment, the finance would come and if the tunnels were priced over 25 years they would be cheaper than building and maintaining ferries.’

Mr MacNeil has pressed for many years for the potential of tunnels to the islands to be looked at. In 2019, he worked with Norwegian consultant Norconsult over the feasibility of the project which suggested a tunnel between Harris and Skye as the best option with a possible additional inter-island link between Harris and North Uist.

MacNeil said tunnels were a serious option for the islands as a means of reducing reliance on the ferry network and making savings in the long term.