March 12, 2014
Controversial building gets new life
We recently profiled a new film of the community led struggle to get rid of the Skye Bridge tolls. The film is about to embark on a tour of regional screenings. In a neat twist of fate, the former toll station on the bridge which for so long was the focus for the community’s dissent, is set to be taken over by the local community trust and given a new lease of life. Who’d have thought the station would be taking cash from renting out bikes rather than bridge tolls less than twenty years after the bridge opened.
For 10 years the toll station on the Skye Bridge was the focus and symbol of a campaign that saw hundreds of people arrested and more than 100 convicted for refusing to pay.
But now the station, where campaigners would repeatedly converge to defy the private finance regime that demanded what was claimed to be the highest tolls in Europe, looks likely to have a new life – renting out bikes.
Highland Councillors will be asked tomorrow to consider giving almost £50,000 to a £324, 000 project for environmental and access improvements around the village of Kyle Of Lochalsh and the road to the Skye Bridge.
One of the elements of the Plock Of Kyle Access Road Project is that it would provide facilities, including new cycle tracks, between the Skye Bridge and the Plockton road and link directly to the leisure centre and swimming pool.
The Plock is almost 100 acres on land on the outskirts of the village near the access point to the Skye Bridge. The area fell into disuse some years ago and now much of the land is unmanaged, overgrown, largely inaccessible and unused by most of the community.
Discussions are continuing between the Scottish Government and the Community Trust for the purchase of the former Skye Bridge toll station, with one of the likely uses of this building being as a base for cycle hire.
The project is led by the Hamilton Park Trustees, owners of the Plock, and the Kyle & Lochalsh Community Trust.
The Big Lottery Community Spaces Programme is providing nearly £250,000 to the Project and the Highland Council Planning & Development Service has already committed £15,000. However, the project has a shortfall of £49,404.
If councillors agree to cover this it will mean the local authority will meet almost 20% of the project costs. But the report going to councillors suggests the project is worthy of their additional support, not least because it would contribute to the council’s own Carbon Clever initiative by providing new cycling opportunities in Kyle.
The report says it also aims to bring the community together to improve their environment; open up Kyle’s main land asset to the whole community; and be a catalyst for community development and regeneration.
“While achieving the full potential of the Plock is beyond the scope of the current project, the current works are an essential precursor to any future development, creating the groundwork, developing access and bringing the area back into the life of the community,” the report concludes.
The Skye Bridge opened in October 1995, when the first tolls were charged and refused. In December 2004 the tolls were scrapped by the then Scottish Executive.
That year a round trip cost visitors £11.40 – 14 times the round trip price on the Forth Road Bridge.
One of those who was arrested, charged and convicted for refusing to pay the tolls “without reasonable excuse”, was Skye businessman Cailean Maclean.
He said: “I would certainly support the idea of the toll station becoming a cycle hire outlet. It strikes me as a much more enlightened enterprise than its original purpose. It sounds as though it would make a positive contribution to the area.”
It was not only the islanders who campaigned against the bridge tolls. In the course of the campaign some protesters travelled specifically to not pay the bridge tolls, including Keith Brown, the current Scottish Transport Minister.
The Scottish Executive bought out the contract from Skye Bridge Ltd, the consortium headed by Bank Of America, for £27 million.