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June 3, 2009

Islanders happy with their isolation

On Easdale there are no cars which makes for a peaceful, if at times testing way of life.  The island is connected to mainland by a small passenger ferry and residents have to haul their provisions homewards from the harbour using wheelbarrows.  Last week, the Council finally ditched plans to build a fixed link to the island. The community are delighted

WITH no cars, no crime, and no unemployment, it is a community which supports an existence many thought consigned to Scotland’s history.
The island of Easdale, connected to the mainland by a small passenger ferry, makes for a tranquil, if at times testing existence. Residents haul their provisions homewards from the harbour using wheelbarrows.

Today, however, they will overcome their greatest challenge yet after fighting Argyll & Bute Council’s plans to build a bridge to the mainland.

After four years of lobbying for a permanent link, the local authority has decided to ditch plans for a causeway.

The idea that a bridge be built to neighbouring Seil, itself linked to wider Argyll by Thomas Telford’s “Bridge over the Atlantic”, has been vigorously debated on the island in the Firth of Lorn.

“The difficulty and the practicalities of living here are the price you pay for peace and isolation, especially as you get older,” said Keith Oversby, who retired to Easdale from Lanarkshire at the turn of the millennium.

Argyll and Bute Council commissioned a £50,000 Scottish Transport Appraisal Guidance (Stag) study, to look at options to improve transport links to Easdale, south of Oban. The report going before the council’s Executive today states: “While from a transport planning perspective a fixed link is probably preferable, the Stag outcome shows a replacement ferry option as the better solution.”

The overwhelming majority of Easdale’s 56 permanent residents believe preserving the character of the smallest permanently occupied island in the Inner Hebrides is of utmost importance. Children would no longer be allowed to play freely on the island, they argue, and doors ordinarily left unlocked for visitors would have to be bolted. As such, today’s announcement will be greeted warmly on Easdale.

“I’m very glad. A bridge would have killed the island, it would have meant the end of what makes Easdale special,” said Ghalia Laycock. Originally from Syria, the civil engineer is an example of Easdale’s diverse population, including a Braille programmer, teachers, an author, a masseuse, and an accountant.

“It is a small place but it has a very strong population who are proud. People are just happy,” added Mrs Laycock, who moved to the island 18 years ago with her husband, Adrian.

Sandra Melville, a pharmacist and chair of the island’s community trust, whose great-great-great-grandparents settled on Easdale in 1745, said: “This is tremendous news. Our own consultation showed that 90 to 95 per cent of islanders want to retain the identity of the island, and felt that could only be done by retaining a ferry service.”

Others, Mr Oversby among them, have reservations. “I recognise I’m in the minority, but I favour the fixed link,” said the 62-year-old. “We only have a small passenger ferry, and if there was an emergency it’s a concern.”

The council has returned to drawing board. It may recommend an improved ferry service, or one operated by the local community, but no decision will be taken until the Scottish Government’s Ferries Review is completed next year.