A TUNNEL between Orkney and the Scottish mainland came a step closer yesterday when island councillors agreed to spend up to GBP20,000 on a feasibility study.

Their decision relates to the possibility of an undersea link between the Orkney mainland and the island of Shapinsay, where the 300 residents currently face a 45-minute ferry journey to Kirkwall.

But the council has already decided that the director of development services and the director of technical services should submit a joint report, to a future meeting of the transportation committee, regarding the feasibility of constructing a tunnel under the Pentland Firth to the Scottish mainland.

Stephen Hagan, Orkney's convener, said last night: "We decided just to look at Shapinsay just now as an example to see what we are talking about.

"If the study is positive and we decide to pursue tunnels, then we would look at which would be the first one."

Six competitive tenders will be sought for the study.

The composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies has publicly opposed any programme of tunnel building.

Writing in a national newspaper he said: "There is a wonderful atmosphere here.

Tunnels would bring us that much closer to being like everywhere else. The mainland or Orkney would change out of all recognition and the population density would increase rapidly."