Bridge buy ‘shouldn’t hit roads spend’

Any possible future buy-out by the Government of the Skye Bridge should not affect future road projects in the Highlands. This was argued by councillors at a meeting of Highland Council's roads and transport committee yesterday.

They were responding to a suggestion by convener Peter Peacock that they may be asked to prioritise their spending on future transport plans if the Scottish Office was to consider a buy-out of the controversial toll bridge.

Mr Peacock said he was seeking to clarify the council's position, "We had before us today fairly large reports on our future spending plans for roads in the Highlands", he said, "I was surprised there was no mention of the Skye Bridge and I wanted the council to be clear about where its priorities would be."

Councillor Alan Beaton said no proposed developments for the Highlands should be penalised by any deals on the Skye Bridge, "The previous Government made a mess with the Private Finance Initiative and the present Government has done nothing to investigate the setting up of the PFI scheme and grossly excessive profits this bridge is generating."

Mr Beaton said these misdeeds were not the doing of the people of the Highlands. "And there is no way road improvements should be affected by the bridge issue." Councillor Douglas Briggs described the bridge PFI as a guinea pig which went badly wrong. "It's backfired badly for the people of Skye, but there's no way the rest of the Highlands should suffer." He suggested the committee make their position clear that other projects must not be affected by anything that happens with the Skye Bridge.

But the committee voted by 14-4 in support of an amendment by Councillor William Mowat that they leave the matter for discussion at the full council in February. A notice of motion calling on the Government to instigate an immediate inquiry into every aspect of the Skye Bridge project will be discussed at the February 25 meeting.

Meanwhile, an anti-toll campaigner who admitted causing an obstruction during a protest at the bridge toll booth escaped with a nominal penalty at Dingwall Sheriff Court yesterday.

Sheriff Ken Forbes admonished Robert Stewart and ordered his licence endorsed with three penalty points. Robert Stewart, 52, of Appin Cottage, Shore Street, Cromarty, admitted causing an obstruction on the bridge on November 28 by parking on a grass verge and refusing to proceed when asked by police.

Stewart, who is registered disabled and exempt from paying bridge tolls, told the court he had joined 50 other drivers in a protest to prove that police had been instructed not to prosecute non-payers under the Skye Bridge toll legislation, by crossing the bridge without paying.

Approaching the toll booth from the Kyle direction, he attempted to serve to the toll booth operator a notice of criminal proceedings, claiming bridge operator, Skye Bridge Ltd, was committing a criminal offence by collecting tolls without assignation. Police advised him to pass through the toll booth under threat of being charged with obstruction, and when he claimed he had important legal business to discuss with the bridge company's representative, he was directed to park in the wide-load bay. There he was told by another police officer to move, and when he moved on to the grass area, was told by yet another policeman to move.

Stewart claimed he was not causing an obstruction, but was cautioned and charged.

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Copyright Ray Shields, 1999.

Most recent revision, 03 February 1999