VITAL transport networks across Scotland are at risk of grinding to a halt next month while essential services and even future housebuilding programmes could be axed after Brexit, according to council emergency planning documents.

Preparation and assessment documents written by Scotland’s 32 local authorities have revealed the impact that Brexit may have on local communities, including disruption to ferry services and international flights being unable to land.

The documents, including councils’ risk registers, were released to the Herald through Freedom of Information legislation, and reveal services across the country facing shut down.

Ferry ports at Cairnryan, services between Shetland and the mainland, and flights set to land at Prestwick airport would reportedly be under threat if the UK left the EU with no deal in place.

Additional checks and the potential for an effective “hard border” at the Dumfries and Galloway port could force authorities to take drastic measures to deal with increased pressure on services, leading to a massive slow down.

Plans are currently being drawn up to re-open the port at Stranraer, just a few miles from Cairnryan, to reduce build up on surrounding routes.

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Another contingency plan suggested is the implementation of “Operation Stack”, meaning drivers could see lorries and other goods vehicles lining both sides of both the A75 and A77 in an attempt to lower congestion levels. However, plans to open the nearby port at Stranraer could negate this. 

There are also fears that Cairnryan could be viewed as vulnerable to smuggling and organised crime, due to “the impact of UK proposals for customs arrangements in Northern Ireland”.

Ferry services crossing the Irish Sea from Scotland could also be set for delays as passengers and goods face long waits to travel, with estimates claiming that ports in the UK could operate at as low as 40 per cent of their current capacity.

However, those who operate services from Cairnryan, including P&O Ferries, have refused to indicate whether their passengers will be affected, with the group saying they expected authorities “to act to mitigate the impact of any reintroduced customs and sanitary controls”.

Sea crossings between the mainland and Scottish islands could also be threatened or disrupted, with fears raised by Shetland Islands Council about the potential for ferries to be “commandeered” by their owners, the Scottish Government.

Transport Scotland has developed plans to “commandeer” a vessel operating in the Northern Isles. 

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However, the use of a ship travelling to Shetland has been described as a “last resort” by the Scottish Government, and disruption to communities would be ‘minimised’.

Orkney and Shetland MP, Alistair Carmichael, said:“Shetland’s internal ferry services are the only means of transport between islands. If this were a town and the Government was proposing to take away its buses and its trains, there would be outrage. The same arguments apply."

Holidaymakers could also be badly affected by a No Deal Brexit, according to risks identified by council bosses in Ayrshire.

Brexit planning by North Council claims that planes travelling to Prestwick Airport could be unable to land due to licensing issues with the site’s air traffic controllers.

According to a risk assessment, “currently air traffic controllers with EU licences would not be able to land planes”.

While the Civil Aviation Authority said they could not comment on the issue, this is consistent with their suggestion that navigation providers may need to ‘take action to ensure continuity’- meaning other airports in Scotland could also face similar problems.

Staff at Prestwick are also under threat, with as many as 50 per cent of Ryanair staff at the site, the only commercial airline operating from the airport, facing questions over their right to work as EU nationals.

Those representing workers say they fully expect delays in travel across the country, and called for ‘urgent action’ to mitigate for such issues.

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Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association, said: “Operation Yellowhammer clearly set out the dire consequences of exiting the European Union without a deal – this will impact Scotland as much as the rest of the UK.

“We fully expect this will lead to significant delays for Scots getting in and out of the country. We have also raised concerns with the UK Government about the impact of No Deal on rail freight services going to and from the Continent.

However, bosses at Edinburgh Airport say their customers will face no issues.

A spokesman said: “We’ve been working hard with airlines, air traffic control and regulators to ensure that Brexit, in whatever form it comes, does not impact passengers. Everything is in place to ensure that business continues as usual.”

According to some councils, the severe disruption and shut down could reach levels previously seen during the Beast from the East cold snap last year.

In Edinburgh, council officials have consulted those who worked during the snowstorms of 2018, which saw transport closed off across the country, leaving many people stranded in their homes.

It is thought that civil disorder and disruption could centre on the capital following withdrawal from the EU, meaning essential care and medical services, schools and councils could be closed off. Edinburgh council leader Adam McVey emphasised that while this was planning for the worst case scenario, the evaluation work was important.

Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity Michael Matheson said: “Transport Scotland is contributing to overall Scottish Government ‘no deal’ planning and doing what we can to mitigate the worst impacts.

“This includes working with the Local Resilience Partnership in Dumfries and Galloway on mitigation measures at Cairnryan ports should a ‘no deal’ result in an increase in traffic. The situation remains uncertain due to the lack of clarity around the treatment of the Irish Border and an absence of analysis from the UK Government on the potential for additional freight movements between the island of Ireland and Scotland through Cairnryan.

“We also have options to transport category one goods into the country if UK Government measures such as additional freight capacity are unable to meet demand or are considerably disrupted. We want to minimise disruption to local communities and a freighter from the Northern Isles would only be used as a last resort and on a limited basis should all other UK Government mitigations fail."

The effort to minimise disruption to transport is just one of the areas of focus for councils, with some local authorities meeting multiple times per month over the past three years to plan for the consequences of a No Deal Brexit.

The body representing Scottish councils has said local government leaders are doing all they can to prepare as far in advance as possible.

COSLA president, councillor Alison Evison, said: “Scottish Local Government is preparing for all it can as a result of exiting the European Union.

“COSLA represents Scotland’s local authorities on the Scottish Government Resilience Room meetings, ensuring that we have a shared understanding of risks presented by a “no deal” EU Exit, that those risks are mitigated as far as possible in advance, and that preparations for responding to issues following a “no deal” exit are closely co-ordinated.

“Local authority staff are working with a range of partners to mitigate all the risks they can as a result of exiting the EU. This includes local authority procurement managers and their food suppliers working constructively by putting local contingency plans in place to minimise any risk. In addition together with our member councils and the NHS, COSLA are working to support Health and Social Care Partnerships and social care providers across the country to aid their contingency planning.

“Scotland’s councils will continue to work at both a local and national level to help on our communities resulting from a ‘No-Deal Brexit’.”

Glasgow Prestwick Airport could not be reached for comment.

To view how a No Deal Brexit will affect your community, visit The Herald's interactive map.