National Alliance Against Tolls - Skye - Press Release December 2004
PRESS RELEASE FOLLOWING REMOVAL OF SKYE BRIDGE TOLLS 21 December 2004
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Tolls on the Bridge to Skye have ended today. The official announcement by the Scottish Executive was made this morning.
This is a historic event. Ending the Skye Tolls is the first significant stopping of tolls in Britain since the Second World War.
The bridge opened in 1995 and the islanders and those on the neighbouring mainland have fought a hard struggle against the tolls from day one. Many islanders were fined or ended up in gaol.
The Islanders were supported by local politicians and the Highland Council.
Andy Anderson, General Secretary of Skye and Kyle Against Tolls said:-
"SKAT notes with great satisfaction that the toll imposed on our community by the Tory Government on the 16th of October 1995 has finally been abolished. This toll has seriously damaged our economy, it has undermined the principles of democracy, and the rule of law, and it has left many hundreds of honest and decent citizens with criminal records."
"We recognise that the political struggle to get this toll off was a bitter one behind the scene because of the significance of this for other PFIs in the UK. The Skye Bridge Scheme was after all the first PFI project in the UK, and it has been demonstrated to have been a major failure."
"SKAT will organise a public celebration of this great victory for the community, recognising that this was indeed a victory won by the community themselves. SKAT may have acted as a catalyst for this struggle, but the real force was the wide support in the community."
"We believe that SKAT's commitment to non violent, democratic, direct action which won the support of thousands in the community has forced politicians to take the toll off."
"SKAT always took the view that the most likely way to get the tolls off was by political pressure, although we were at times criticised by a few for this. However without the broad support from within the community no amount of campaigning would have been successful."
"This victory therefore is a victory for the whole community, and particularly the members of that community who took a part, in whatever way, in opposing this toll."
"We would pay tribute to our local MSP John Farquhar Munro for his steady and persistent pressure, and to the Highland Council for the work they have done."
"We feel that when large amounts of public money have been thrown away to placate this private company, it is sad what no effort appears to have been made to compensate the staff employed by that company, and who are now out of work. Are their needs not more important than the demands of this American company who made a huge profit out of our community, and public funds?"
"Le deagh dhùrachd"
This picture shows Andy Anderson and other SKAT supporters at the demonstration this summer. Andy (on the left) is an ex piper.
John McGoldrick, coordinator for the National Alliance against Tolls said:-
"The members of SKAT and the whole community deserve this.
They have fought a long hard battle.
Nowhere else in Britain has anyone showed their tenacity."
"Now that the authorities have done the right thing here, we hope that they will do the same for those in other areas of Scotland that suffer from tolls."
"We estimate that the 3 remaining tolls on the Clyde (Erskine), Forth, and Tay, collect just over £20 million a year in tolls. This is a lot to the few that have to pay them but would be as nothing to the Scottish authorities with their budget of £20 billion."
"We hope that Scotland will show the rest of Britain, that tolls belong to the past."
The bridge from the Kyle of Lochalsh to the Isle of Skye opened on Monday 16th October 1995. The Government had handed over responsibility for building and financing the bridge to private operators:- Skye Bridge Ltd.
The resulting tolls were some of the most expensive in the world:- the round trip toll for cars was 1140p from 1st May to 30th September and 940p during the winter months. (Books of 20 (one way) tickets cost £26.80.)
The toll is even worse if related to length, as the main bridge is less than 600 metres long. (There is a small bridge to the islet of Eilean Ban and then the main bridge to Skye.)
As might be expected there were immediate protests in 1995 and the community in Skye and the neighbouring mainland (Kyleakin) formed a group "Skye and Kyle Against Tolls".
Part of their battle was legal, as many people thought that the law which permitted a private company to levy tolls was not correctly drafted.
There were also protests and demonstrations. The UK legislation under which the bridge was built (New Roads and Street Works Act 1991) at section 38 made it an offence to refuse to pay. If you refused to pay then you could not cross the privately owned bridge but you still ended up in court. This resulted in fines and periods in gaol for some of the protestors. There have been unsuccessful calls for protestors to have their criminal convictions quashed.
Eventually in June (2004) a statement was made in the Scottish Parliament that the "discredited toll regime" would end this year, but there has been uncertainty that this promise would be honoured.
There have been complaints that the original PFI deal for the construction of the bridge did not give good value, and that the cost of buying out the PFI deal may be several times the cost of building the bridge.
The Highland Council commissioned a report from Napier University. The university calculated the adverse effect of the tolls on tourism and employment.
There are about 34 roads in Scotland which cross tidal waters. The removal of tolls from the Skye bridge leaves only 3 of them tolled:- Erskine (on the Clyde), Forth and Tay. There have been calls for the tolls to be removed from all of them and the Scottish executive is reviewing the tolls. A report is expected early next year.
Though an attempt is being made to actually increase the tolls on one bridge (Forth). The increase has been delayed due to "The Lone Protestor", George Campbell. It is estimated that all 3 bridges together collect about £20 million a year in tolls. It recently emerged (13 December) that the tolls on the Tay road bridge may also have to increase to pay for repairs.
Key Skye Facts:-
The island and the neighbouring Kyle of Localsh area covers just over 1,000 square miles, and has a population of just over 12,000, i.e. 12 people per square mile.
The "Skye Boat Song" tells of Flora McDonald helping Bonnie Prince Charlie to escape dressed as Flora's maid.
The Cuillin Mountains are well known to walkers and climbers.
Most of the old tolls, including those on the Thames bridges stopped over 100 years ago. This leaves 3 other tolled crossings in Scotland. One in Wales, one from England to Wales and 10 in England. There is also the London toll known as the "Congestion Charge", the M6 toll (one year old earlier this month), and about 12 very minor private tolls in country areas.
With the Skye Toll gone, the 6 most expensive British crossing tolls (return) for cars are:- Humber Bridge £5.00 (£5.20 from Jan 2005), Severn Bridges £4.60 (£4.80 from Jan 2005), Mersey Tunnels £2.40, Dartford Crossing and Tyne Tunnel £2.00.
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