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February 8, 2017

Road tax

The gradual erosion of what used to be understood as the exclusive responsibility of the state continues apace. There are now very few areas of public service that have not been encroached upon in some way by private enterprise or, more recently and as a result of austerity cuts, have had to be picked up in some way through community action. To date our roads, that most basic element of our infrastructure, have been wholly retained as a public responsibility.  While roads might hold little attraction for the private investor, the community on Kerrera have few alternatives. 


Will Humphries The Times

Life on the tiny island of Kerrera is rarely dull but can mean overcoming a north-south divide that has left two communities isolated from each other, despite the short distances involved.

Gill Vollum has a red Royal Mail off-road vehicle to make her deliveries across deeply rutted farm tracks

The postwoman has to drive into the sea sometimes to make deliveries, while attending parties may mean yomping over miles of bog in the dark

That may change when the local council discusses plans to build the island’s first road — linking the opposite ends of the four-mile-long Inner Hebridean island, in Oban Bay, for the first time.

There is a catch — the council is only likely to approve design work to the road if islanders lead the effort to raise the £500,000 cost.

Argyll & Bute council members say that they may have to sell land for housing plots and find funding grants themselves to make the dream a reality. In turn, islanders are insisting that officials help to fund the project.

Martin Shields, chairman of the island development trust, said its status as a charity meant that it “might be able to access pockets of funding that council or government cannot” but that responsibility remained with the council.

“The island is not looking to fund the construction of this road but we are more than willing to help where we can,” he said. “Everyone knows that councils are struggling, nevertheless it is their responsibility to lead on finding funding and bring together partners in the hope that we can finally connect the island.”

Kerrera, where parrots outnumber people thanks to its exotic bird sanctuary, has enjoyed a revival in recent years, with families returning from the mainland.

However, with islanders roughly split into two communities at either end of Kerrera the lack of a connecting road means that simple tasks such as travelling to a Christmas party or delivering the mail take on epic proportions.

“Trying to get up to the north end of the island is very hard,” she said. “It’s not really a track to the north — it goes through fields and the middle bit is really a great huge bog, and at some point the sea goes into that bog and you go wheel-deep in seawater.”

She added: “We have our community Christmas party on Saturday and getting half the children to meet Santa is a complete logistical nightmare.

“There are only 45 people on the island and some haven’t met each other since the last Christmas party and it’s not because we are miserable so-and-so’s.

“There is one mum with an 18-month-old son who is having to put him in a backpack and walk through the bog for two and a half miles to make the party.”

There is no pub, church or general store and all supplies come from Oban two miles away on the mainland. A main ferry terminal serves the south and a road would remove the need for the two smaller ferries serving the bay near Ardentrive Farm to the north.

Susan Rimmer, 68, who moved to Kerrera from her native New York two decades ago, said: “You really have to go out of your way to meet friends. They have to go by quad bike or tractor or by boat.”

In his report to the council’s policy and resources committee, Jim Smith, head of roads, said: “Residents view the provision of a road as a lifeline link due to concerns regarding existing access for emergency services and medical staff to the island.”