Transport plan that rejects island needs

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has responded with astonishment to a draft report on 20- year transport plans for Scotland which rejects almost all of the islands’ transport priorities.

Although it went to the council’s policy and resources committee in late March, the document was only highlighted this week when the Labour candidate in the Holyrood election, Shaun Fraser warned of its “disastrous” implications for the islands.

The comhairle has agreed to make strong representations to Scottish Governments on the draft report and is likely to pursue these vigorously once new Ministers are in place.

Mr Fraser said he found it “almost beyond belief” that the sitting MSP has been silent on the proposals which have been in formulation for several months, drawn up by the Scottish Government’s consultants Jacobs/Aecom.

A report to councillors warned: “The sifting out of, for example, air services excludes a fundamental lifeline link for islands communities and calls into question the inclusivity and equity of what would become Scotland’s 20 year Transport Plan.

“In its response to the recommendations and update, the comhairle may wish to re-affirm its deep concern about a sifting exercise that has scoped out so many critical areas of island transport.”

The report notes that the review’s priorities are set out under eight “themes” but continues: “It is considered that these eight themes fail to capture the key transport challenges facing the islands.

“The Outer Hebrides Spinal Route; roads to communities; inter-island ferry services; lifeline air services; the Air Discount Scheme; the Road Equivalent Tariff scheme and digital connectivity which shrinks distance and reduces remoteness are all essential features of prosperous and inclusive island life and yet these are not adequately reflected in the eight themes”.

The status of the spinal route through the islands is particularly urgent in the light of the comhairle’s own transport strategy plan which warns that there will be no money to maintain it over the next decade. The comhairle has long argued for it to be given trunk road status which would mean financial responsibility passing to the Scottish Government.

Mr Fraser said: “It is utterly astonishing that, on the one hand, lip service is paid to island-proofing legislation while, at the same time, just about every recognition of the islands’ connectivity needs is in the process of being excluded from national priorities.”