DCSIMG

Could a tunnel to the mainland be the future?

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A tunnel linking the Isles to the mainland could be the type of project looked at seriously if the islands were given more power.

During a discussion at a public meeting on the Comhairle’s ‘Our Islands Our Future’ campaign, questions were asked about long term planning for the Western Isles and in particular plans for transport links.

The campaign, in partnership with Orkney and Shetland Councils, is pushing for more autonomy for island councils and specific issues such as taking control of the seabed and channelling revenues which are currently paid directly to the Crown Estate, into local
needs.

Convener of the Comhairle Norman A Macdonald said politicians tended to work on four year cycles as that was the term of a council, but if the local authority had a guaranteed income from things like renewables or control of the seabed, this would allow for more long term planning.

He said that a guaranteed income stream could open up opportunities: “A tunnel from South Lochs to Skye is only eight to nine miles which is absolutely nothing to people in
Scandinavia.

“If you were in control of resources you might then be in a situation where some of the things which have so far been unacheivable might, just might, come into
reach.”

Comhairle Chief Executive Malcolm Burr said that good progress was being made with the campaign, in that they were already at the negotiating stage with the Scottish and UK Governments, and that an Island Desk had been established at Whitehall with a named civil servant dealing with the campaign.

A Concordat was being worked on with the UK Government and a Prospectus with the Scottish Government, which will be agreements on what can be worked towards.

When asked what the islands had in common with Orkney and Shetland, Mr Burr said: “There are enough similarities to make up for the differences.”

He pointed out those councils already had legislation in place to ensure the retention of the council for that area, but that the Western Isles did not have this.

He said that other benefits would also come with more autonomy, including general confidence from the island community, which had been seen in Shetland where huge benefits had been gleaned from the oil industry.

Gaining control of the seabed and the income that comes from it would be a major step forward for the islands but is not the only issue in the campaign, said Cllr Macdonald.

“The Crown Estate is a key driver in what we are doing, but isn’t something that if it doesn’t come off means the whole thing is a waste of time,” he said.

“Control of the seabeds would be a huge benefit. The people best able to control the seabed are those whose livelihoods depend on it.”

Engaging with young people who are the real future of the islands was also extremely important, he said, and Leader of the Comhairle Angus Campbell was due to meet up with pupils at Castlebay School and Barra Youth Council while on the island for the public consultation meeting last week.

Negotiations are to continue on the campaign and a meeting will be held in Brussels in February with European officials.

The ‘Our Islands Our Future’ campaign is not about supporting ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in the upcoming Scottish referendum on independence, the council say, but is about taking the opportunity to negotiate for the islands at a time of constitutional
change.

To keep up to date on the campaign visit the Comhairle website, follow the campaign on Twitter @islands2014 or give your views by email to oiof@cne-siar.gov.uk or write to Our Islands Our Future, Comhairle Offices, Sandwick Road, Stornoway.

 

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