Bridge 'truth' Sought

Scottish National Party MSP and Skye Bridge spokeswoman Irene McGugan yesterday added her voice to the growing clamour for the truth about the costing and construction of the bridge to be revealed publicly.

Ms McGugan's call comes in the wake of reports that the Government's National Audit Office had estimated the ultimate cost of the bridge, largely in payments to the Bank of America which financed the private finance initiative element of the scheme, at 128million.

The MSP is also supporting demands made by anti-toll campaigners Robbie the Pict and Stella Anderson to Scottish Transport Minister Sarah Boyack, asking her to define exactly the official procedure for starting a road-tolling regime like the one at the Skye Bridge.

The NAO's estimate has come as a huge boost to the anti-toll campaign, especially to Mr Pict, whose painstaking research over several years has indicated that the final price would top 100million. Mr Pict has constantly based his defence in court on claims that the official procedure for introducing tolls on the Skye Bridge had never commenced, and that the tolls were therefore illegal.

Despite earlier rejection by the High Court of appeals on these grounds, he remains determined to prove his case.

Earlier this week, he said he had asked Ms Boyack for a reply to his letter of March 22 in time for submission to Dingwall Sheriff Court by last Friday, as a step in the defence to a forthcoming trial for non-payment of tolls.

Yesterday, he still had not received any reply to his letter, despite the "10-day turnaround" period for official replies, pledged under the Government's Citizens' Charter.

Ms Anderson, whose current High Court appeal could also be affected by the minister's reply, said: "What happened to the Citizens' Charter? Our letters have explicitly stated that a reply was urgently required. Are Labour ministers now actively obstructing justice or does Ms Boyack not know her own rules?"

Another appellant, Sconser hotelier Sandy Coghill, added: "We had to wait two years for the sheriff to explain why he convicted us. Do we now have to wait another two years for the minister to admit that he should not have?"

Ms McGugan, who has herself appeared in court on charges of refusing to pay tolls, said: "Protesters like myself are convinced that the tolling regime being applied to the Skye Bridge is legally flawed, and feel it is entirely indefensible that profits are being made from unlawful demands."

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Copyright Ray Shields, 2000.

Most recent revision, 16 April 2000