The long awaited DTZ Pieda report into the the impact of the Skye bridge has finally been published. One hypothesis in their conclusions is that the controversial Skye bridge is increasingly being seen as an asset but its socio-economic impact on the island has been modest. Consultants DTZ Pieda were commissioned in 1998 by the Scottish Office to study the impact of the bridge.
Indeed their report says: "The findings of the study indicate that the impact of the bridge on most business sectors has been very slight. Attitudes to the bridge tend to be dominated by resentment of the tolls. The impact of the bridge on business costs will have been very slight and other economic factors will have had far more impact on businesses."
The survey by consultants DTZ Pieda found that traffic to and from Skye has increased by 26% since the bridge opened and that most tourists interviewed said tolls did not affect their decision to visit Skye.
Last night anti-toll campaigner Robbie the Pict branded the exercise a "whitewash". And Ross, Skye and Inverness West MSP John Farquhar Munro said: "It doesn't change the situation or the attitude. That would be the response in Skye, Lochalsh and the Western Isles where there is no alternative but to use the bridge."
But the Scottish Executive said in a statement yesterday: "The report shows that fears that the bridge and tolls could have a detrimental effect on tourism are unfounded.". Robbie responded: "It's an absurd assessment of tourist attitude. Why didn't they ask the people at Kyle of Lochalsh who were turning round, or people in Inverness who were not intending to go to Skye? The whitewash we expected has arrived, belatedly."
How can you measure the amount of people who DON'T turn up??? The tourists that were interviewed were here BECAUSE the tolls had not affected their decision. What about those who will not come here because of the extortionate prices?
The impact on the vital tourist industry was mixed. On the one hand the consultants found: "The general perception that the bridge, and in particular the tolls, has had a negative effect on the tourism industry is not really substantiated by the evidence. The survey of tourist visitors indicates that for the majority of visitors the bridge had either made no difference or increased the attractiveness of Skye as a place."
But they conceded: "The effect on coach activity is mixed, with some companies indicating a negative effect. The lack of credit facilities at the bridge was a major weakness. However, the impact of the bridge on overnight stays is felt to be neutral."
The consultants point to greater local acceptance. "Between 1995 and 1998 the proportion of households who viewed the bridge in a negative manner has decreased. This supports the hypotheses that the bridge is increasingly being viewed as an asset by local people."
Scottish Transport Minister Sarah Boyack was particularly pleased by the findings on traffic growth and the popularity of the Scottish Executive-subsidised discount tickets. She said yesterday: "In the first quarter of 1997 discount tickets accounted for 64% of traffic.
"This has increased to 76 in the first quarter of 2000. This rising trend is also apparent on an annual basis: in 1997 discount travel accounted for 44% of total crossings, increasing to 49% in 1998 and 52% in 1999. The rise was even higher for commercial vehicles: in the first quarter of 2000 some 84% of all commercial vehicles used discount tickets compared to 67% in the same quarter of 1997.
"Crossings of all vehicles, excluding motorcycles, for the Kyle-Kyleakin ferry in the year immediately preceding the opening of the bridge totalled 520,260. The number of equivalent bridge crossings for 1999 was 653,863.
"This represents an increase of 133,603 vehicles or 26% over the last year in which the ferry operated."
However, Ms Boyack's enthusiasm with the increase of traffic can also be explained by other means. For example, when the ferry was running, people who used to work in Kyle and the mainland would often park their cars in Kyleakin and cross as foot passengers.
Skye bridge campaigner John Campbell was not so impressed. "I do not believe that the increase in traffic is quite as clear-cut as they are suggesting.
"For a start, when the ferry was running the people of Kyleakin simply stepped on board and crossed to the shops in Kyle for nothing. Now they either have to take their car or the shuttle bus, whose operation also distorts the picture. I notice that the much-heralded advantage the bridge was to bring to the business community is still proving elusive."
Ross, Skye and Inverness MP Charles Kennedy said: "Sarah Boyack's glib response boils down to equating more journeys with the bridge being a success. This kind of shallow analysis shows that she has no understanding of the difficulties the tolls are causing on Skye."
A full copy of the report can be found on:-
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Copyright © Ray Shields, 2000.
Most recent revision, 16 November 2000