Highland Council is set to spend £10,000 of taxpayers money on applying for a judicial review into the Skye Bridge project. The move yesterday won the unanimous approval of the authority's transport planning select committee and is likely to be backed by the full council next month.
Describing the figures involved in the Skye Bridge contract as alarming, committee chairman Sandy Mackenzie said: "This Council has adopted too low a profile on this issue for some time and now it's time to raise that profile." Ross, Skye and Inverness West MSP John Farquhar Munro welcomed the decision last night.
He said: "The introduction of tolls was not a transparent process, was not properly costed and did not clearly offer a comparative advantage over other funding methods. I hope Highland Council's judicial review will expose this fact.
"Is it right that we spend hundreds of millions of pounds on roads and public transport in Edinburgh and Glasgow yet somehow believe that rural Scotland does not deserve equal and free access to transport infrastructure?" Local MP and Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy said: I heard the news of the vote as I came out of Prime Minister's Question Time and I was absolutely delighted."
Councillor Drew Millar told yesterday's meeting that this was an opportunity to tackle the ongoing controversy about the bridge, which was one of the first public projects in Britain built under the private finance initiative. He said: "The only way that this can be cleared up is to seek an independent legal opinion on the whole scheme. We need a definitive statement on who actually has the authority to levy tolls. It is at the stage now where judges are contradicting each other and there was a hint from another court last week that a judicial review might be the answer.
"We estimate that this would cost around £10,000, but Skat (Skye and Kyle Against Tolls) is willing to give access to its archive of material and this will reduce the cost. "That is a lot of taxpayer's money, but when you consider the cost to people in Skye and the Western Isles of the tolls, it is worth it. Over 700 coaches no longer make the crossing because of the tolls, losing at least £1million in revenue."
Mr Millar pointed out that people in Skye were still awaiting the outcome of an economic impact assessment carried out by DTZ Pieda in 1998. "Skye was flooded with questionnaires, but so far the report, which was handed to the Scottish Office and now presumably to the Scottish Executive, has not been made public. Why not? Our information is that it condemns the whole scheme and the Executive is embarrassed to publish it."
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Most recent revision, 23 May 2000