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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 June, 2004, 13:56 GMT 14:56 UK
Skye Bridge tolls to be abolished
Skye Bridge
The tolls were introduced in October 1995
Controversial tolls on the Skye Bridge are to be abolished, possibly by the end of this year, it has been revealed.

Enterprise Minister Jim Wallace revealed details of the proposed timescale to the Scottish Parliament.

The announcement was made during a debate on the economy of the Highlands and Islands.

The bridge was opened in October 1995 and was privately built. The tolls were set up so that the bridge company could recoup its investment.

Mr Wallace, who is also the deputy first minister, was responding to a question from Liberal Democrat colleague John Farquhar Munro.

He had asked Mr Wallace when there would be an end to "one of the main impediments to the economy of the Highlands and Islands" - the "discredited toll regime".

Mr Wallace said: "This executive is committed to ending the discredited tolling regime on the Skye Bridge.

'Economic growth'

"Professional advisers have been appointed and discussions with Skye Bridge Limited have already begun.

"Having conferred with the minister of transport on this issue... I believe we can achieve our goal by the end of this year."

But the Conservatives' enterprise spokesman Murdo Fraser defended the original decision to build the bridge under the Private Finance Initiative (PFI).

Jim Wallace
Jim Wallace said the tolls will be abolished

He said the PFI project had brought "tremendous economic growth" to Skye far sooner than would have happened under a public sector arrangement.

He said: "Let's be absolutely clear that the people of Skye are far better off with the bridge than they would have been if they were still relying on the ferry."

In his contribution to the debate, the Scottish National Party MSP Jim Mather claimed that low life expectancy, a bad transport infrastructure, low-income groups and investment uncertainty still dogged the Highlands and Islands.

He said: "Most of the brightest people in the north of Scotland are exported in the 21st century."

The Green MSP for the Highlands and Islands, Eleanor Scott, said the executive should offer more support to small businesses rather than wooing big corporations to the region.

Saying 'we will stop mugging you in six months' is not good enough for the people of Skye
Robbie the Pict
"The biggest asset in the Highlands and Islands is its people," she said.

"Only with a healthy and vibrant community, confident in their cultures, will we have a healthy economy."

Campaigner Robbie the Pict called for the charge to be scrapped immediately.

He told BBC Radio Scotland: "Money is haemorrhaging out of Skye illegally.

"The only proper and decent response is an immediate suspension of tolling.

"Saying 'we will stop mugging you in six months' is not good enough for the people of Skye."

The imposition of tolls on the Skye bridge led to a long-running campaign of civil disobedience.

Objectors have claimed that revenue collected has already covered the entire 27m cost of construction.


SEE ALSO:
Bridge protesters renewing fight
03 May 04  |  Scotland
Toll removal 'threatens ferries'
12 Jan 04  |  Scotland
Skye tolls set to be scrapped
30 Oct 03  |  Scotland
Skye toll complaint goes to fiscal
31 Jul 03  |  Scotland
Secret society case dismissed
13 Mar 03  |  Scotland
MPs reject Skye toll claims
05 Dec 01  |  Scotland


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