Removing essential flights could signal the death of Coll

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Grounding scheduled flights between a tiny island and Oban would put ‘another nail in Coll’s coffin’.

The death knell warning comes from the convener of Coll Community Council Paula Smalley, who has accused Argyll and Bute Council of having ‘no desire’ to keep the lifeline service link running once a contract with Hebridean Air Services Ltd (HASL) runs out.

Earlier this month, Argyll and Bute Council announced the service linking Coll and Colonsay with Oban Airport would be suspended for at least six weeks from mid-May following a failure to agree a new tender.

The only tender it received was from HASL but the bid was classed as ‘non-compliant’ for being out of budget.

On February 14, the council’s policy and resources committee discussed the issue behind closed doors.

Mrs Smalley said: ‘We previously asked as a community council to have sight of the new tender before it goes out but that was refused. We’ve been told we can only see it when it goes live but that will be too late.

‘We are concerned it will be the same tender they put out the first time. If that’s the case, then it will have the same result.

‘We feel Argyll and Bute Council are not wanting this to work. We feel they have no desire to support this service. We appreciate it’s not as politically palatable as a swimming pool on the mainland or flowerbeds in Oban but this air service is a lifeline to our island.’

Frustrated islanders are now taking their plight to national level by lobbying the Scottish Government and calling on the health and education ministers to step in and help.

An Argyll and Bute Council spokesman told The Oban Times the second procurement process would be starting early next month.

He said affected community councils had been sent letters about what was happening and an update had been posted on the council’s website. He also said the number of any future flights could be reduced.

Mrs Smalley said: ‘Connectivity is paramount to our island’s survival. Our fear is the council will turn round and say if we can manage without it for six weeks, then we can do without it completely.

‘Argyll and Bute Council are failing us when they have a duty of care.’

Among those using the scheduled flights are eight young people, aged 11 to 18, who travel to Oban High School from Coll and to get home at weekends. Seven students also board  flights from Colonsay.

Tiree’s flights to Oban will also affected by the situation but the island will still have flights to Glasgow. More than £1.5 million in council funding was made available for the three-year contract.

Oban South and the Isles councillor Roddy McCuish said he would pursue ‘every avenue’ to keep the isles’ air service going. ‘We have to see this air service not only continue but also to grow. It’s not a luxury service, it’s a lifeline. It’s absolutely vital to the island,’ he said.