The National Plan for Scotland's Islands

The National Islands Plan provides a framework for action in order to meaningfully improve outcomes for island communities. This replaces the proposed plan published in October 2019.


Transport (air, road, ferry, bus and other shared transport, active travel and mainland rail services) is of great importance to island communities and is a key factor in the ability of individual residents to, for example, access services and enjoy fundamental human rights. Respondents to the consultation have stressed that island communities face many different transport challenges when carrying out their daily lives compared to those living in less rural areas of the mainland and urban areas.

Currently, the cost of transport on islands is much higher, relative to income, than in the rest of Scotland. Journey times are often long and can require multiple interchanges, including an overnight stay, adding further costs. In addition, integrated ticketing is not always available, meaning that multiple tickets are required, further adding to price and complexity.

SG Strategy - In November 2019, Transport Scotland – in partnership with transport operators, Young Scot and the National Entitlement Card Programme Office – launched smartcard interoperability. This means that people across Scotland can now use one smartcard on multiple modes of transport, rather than needing a smartcard for each operator – including, where smart tickets are available, island and rural community services.

The Scottish Government committed to a £2 million investment fund in the 2018 Programme for Government, which will support the testing of Mobility as a Service (MaaS) concept in Scotland over a three-year period. MaaS aims to provide people with easy, digital access to travel information. This can include technological solutions which personalise travel requirements into single travel app or services allowing unlimited access to multiple transport providers through a monthly user fee.

The first round of funding applications has now closed and the winning bids will be announced in December. The focus for this round is on projects delivering benefits to people in urban, rural and island communities and tourism and helping to tackle inequalities..

Without adequate transport links to and from an island and between islands, the island community will be in a disadvantaged position compared to similar mainland communities. Transport links within an island are also essential to allow the island community to be mobile within the island. Transport links between the mainland ports that serve the islands and Scotland’s urban centres are also important in enabling access for the islands to services and markets. A fair, low carbon transport system is needed so that island communities are put on an equal footing with people on the Scottish mainland, and in order for transport to fully allow the fulfilment of basic human rights. It also enables the growth of sustainable tourism, allowing those who want to visit our islands to do so.

Improved transport links will support more activities on an island, leading to increased opportunities for sustainable economic development.[18] Transport is, hence, a key part of an integrated and sustainable approach to island policy. Transport also plays a part in the environmental footprint of an island. Future transport systems on islands will have to play their role in reaching net zero emissions and contribute to the Scottish Government’s climate change obligations. Access to sustainable travel choices such as bus is integral to helping achieve this, whilst also encouraging a move to active travel (walking and wheeling or cycling) where possible. Transport is a key sector where island communities want to have an even greater voice so that they can genuinely inform decisions that will affect them day in day out.

“The major stress for living in Shetland is the cost and difficulty in travelling to and from the mainland. It means separation from friends and family. It means the cost of a holiday for people on low or median incomes is very difficult.”
(Consultation participant, Shetland).

A range of community transport services were highlighted in the consultation process as providing essential services for island communities. However, transport issues were most frequently mentioned by respondents to the consultation as being a specific challenge of island life. These included both the lack of availability of transport services as well as the cost of transport to and from the island. The need to align timetables when more than one ferry or mode of transport is needed for a journey, the lack of capacity on ferries and the decreasing availability but increasing cost of flights were all mentioned.

SG Strategy - Since 2007, the Scottish Government has invested over £1.9 billion in our ferry services, vessels and infrastructure that provide a lifeline to our island communities. That includes over £113 million in ports and harbours and £255 million in vessels for the Clyde and Hebrides and Northern Isles networks.

Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) has brought significantly lower fares for passengers, cars, small commercial vehicles and coaches. These significant fare reductions have led to an 11 per cent increase in passenger numbers on Clyde and Hebrides services, providing a boost to tourism and island economies, and improving access to the mainland for islanders. We intend to extend RET to Northern Isles routes when we are able to do so.

In 2012, Transport Scotland produced the first comprehensive Ferries Plan (2013-22) based on the needs of communities. This set out the Scottish Government’s ambitious plans for Scotland’s ferry services up to 2022. Work has now started on developing the next Ferries Plan, which will be an inclusive process and aligned with delivering wider strategic objectives around transport, equality, climate, islands, economy, infrastructure, health and wellbeing.

The Scottish Government has set out its ferry investment plans through successive Vessel Replacement and Deployment Plans, with the latest version published in the autumn. Transport Scotland is currently working with CMAL and CalMac to develop investment programmes for vessels and harbours with the aim of increased standardisation and improved resilience. This will also require collaborative working with port owners including local authorities, trusts and private companies. Scottish Ministers have confirmed that the next vessel, following the two currently being built at Ferguson’s shipyard, will be for the Islay route and is currently in initial design.

The Scottish Government is committed to dualling the A9 between Perth and Inverness. This ambitious programme, one of the biggest transport infrastructure projects in Scotland’s history, will bring many benefits to road users, communities and businesses who live along this vital route between central Scotland and the Highlands and Islands.

However, physical transportation of people from place to place is only one means by which lack of access can be overcome. It is clear that the more infrastructure that is constructed, the more it is used. Therefore, we have a responsibility to consider how we move about to satisfy our daily and community needs in a low carbon and increasingly zero-emissions manner.[19]

SG Policy - National Planning Framework 3[20] already highlights the opportunity for islands to capitalise on their size as an asset when considering de-carbonising transport options as well as highlighting the importance of digital fibre/broadband connectivity. There are also other ways in which we might bring people and services closer together to avoid the need to travel in the first place. This may be more achievable under a re – populating scenario for the islands. National Planning Framework 3 is clear that there are towns in coastal areas which can act as hubs for services and transport and will be a focus for new development.

This Plan and its supporting Implementation Route Map will promote a fair, integrated, green and inclusive approach to transport, which will sit alongside Transport Scotland’s review of the National Transport Strategy (NTS) that will set the strategic direction for transport over the next 20 years.

SG Policy - In taking this work forward, Transport Scotland have adopted a collaborative approach, working with partners, to develop a robust evidence base, and engaging with stakeholders and citizens across Scotland to give them a greater say in the development of transport policy. As well as carrying out a public consultation, Transport Scotland have run four Citizens Panels in urban, rural and island locations to test the public acceptability of the draft NTS. The Plan is also aligned with the strategic commitments on transport. Building on the NTS, the update to the Strategic Transport Projects Review (STPR2) will set out the transport infrastructure priorities for the next 20 years. Moreover, the Ferries Plan 2 will set out future ferries strategy and will be focused on delivering the outcomes of wider Scottish Government strategies – including the new National Planning Framework, the National Islands Plan, the second Strategic Transport Projects Review[21] and the National Transport Strategy.

Through the NTS, we intend to increase accountability and participation by establishing Citizen Panels, which is consistent with taking a more human rights-based approach. These panels will enable Transport Scotland to engage with individuals and communities to inform the implementation of transport policies and enablers. It will also be important to consider the role that islands play or could play as gateways or hubs, now or in the future, based on their connectivity. National Planning Framework 3 highlights the important role of islands for their deep-water ports for example.

The Isle of Hoy Development Trust runs the island’s only public transport, the ‘Hail and Ride’ community bus. Shapinsay Development Trust (SDT) run the out of hours ferry passenger service after the scheduled service has finished, enabling folk to attend events and meetings in Kirkwall or come over to Shapinsay for the evening. The out of hours ferry is also available for private hire at other times by arrangement. SDT also provide electric car and minibus travel on Shapinsay for anyone wishing to get around on the island who don’t have a vehicle of their own, or for groups.

The community fuel station at Sleat on the Isle of Skye is one of the first community owned fuel stations and has been owned by the Sleat Community Trust for over 10 years. The fuel station is run by the Trust as part of the village shop and Post Office. Next door, the motor garage is leased to a local business.

SG Policy - Air travel continues to be one of the quickest and most convenient ways to travel, not least to and from our island communities. As set out in Programme for Government, we will work to decarbonise scheduled flights within Scotland by 2040. We will support the trialling and introduction of low or zero emission planes operating between airports across the Highlands and Islands, with the first such trials taking place in 2021.

In collaboration with Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd, we will also aim to create the world’s first zero emission aviation region through a new programme of activity to decarbonise airport operations, infrastructure and flights across the Highlands and Islands.

We remain committed to supporting connectivity between islands and Scotland’s major airports. Many respondents to the consultation were concerned with the cost of airfares and the capacity on the aircraft. The Air Discount Scheme continues to provide a discount of 50 per cent of the core airfare for eligible passengers. We are also committed to supporting the lifeline services between Glasgow and Barra and Tiree.

Strategic Objective 3

To improve transport services we will work with our agencies to:

  • Ensure that existing and future transport-related policies, strategies and services are fully island proofed so that they truly meet the needs of island communities. 
  • Engage with local authorities, island communities and transport operators in developing regulations and guidance for the bus services provisions of the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019, which aim to enable local authorities to better respond to local needs.
  • Produce a long-term plan and investment programme for new ferries and development at ports to improve resilience, reliability, capacity and reduce emissions to give confidence to island communities on our ongoing commitment.
  • Develop a new Ferries Plan that will meaningfully contribute to delivering the outcomes of wider Scottish Government strategies as set out in the National Transport Strategy and this National Islands Plan.
  • As part of the next Ferries Plan, review the impacts of Road Equivalent Tariff and consider future ferry fares policy options that will meet the needs of islanders and support island economies.
  • Also as part of the Ferries Plan, review and promote integration between ferries and other modes of transport on the mainland and islands, with a view to better facilitating the use of active, public or shared transport for all or part of journeys to and from islands in an affordable and accessible manner. 
  • For the Clyde and Hebrides ferry services, develop and introduce a new booking, reservation and ticketing system, with Smart Ticketing capability, to replace the existing system.
  • Use the feedback from the NTS consultation to inform the NTS Delivery Plan which will seek to address the different transport challenges faced across Scotland’s different areas and regions including islands.
  • Determine strategic transport investments from our island communities through STPR2 – which will also inform Transport Scotland’s Ferries Plan 2.
  • Work in partnership with local authorities and communities to improve walking and cycling infrastructure, the design of place and access to bikes, facilities, promotion and education to make walking and cycling the most popular choice for shorter everyday journeys including as part of multi-modal journeys. 
  • Explore the potential to reduce the need to travel by using the planning system to promote places which bring people and services together. 
  • Subject to requirements as set out in the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Service and the Northern Isles Ferry Service contracts, we will always strive to improve, where necessary and possible, issues relating to freight and will engage proactively with operators, communities and stakeholders as appropriate.



Back to top