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One thousand islanders and supporters signed a petition on its first day to stop a proposed parking tax on residents and visitors to Iona.
The record number of signatures were made on day one of a Scottish Parliament petition calling for an end to Argyll and Bute Council’s plan to impose a so-called ‘parking tax’ around lifeline ferry services.
Long-term parking for islanders and visitors using island ferries is currently free but Argyll and Bute Council is now proposing to charge vehicles £9 a day, every day of the week, 365 days a year.
Campaigners have challenged both the council leader and its chief executive to visit Iona and Mull to meet residents but so far neither has replied.
Billy McClymont, chairman of Mull Community Council, said: ‘The biggest current Scottish Parliament Petition we can see hit about 800 signatures over six weeks – we surged to more than 1,000 signatories within a single day of opening. The council leader and her chief executive can no longer sit on the mainland with their fingers in their ears. They need to get out here to the islands they say they represent and listen to our well-founded concerns.’
Islanders believe the council’s proposed parking tax risks crippling island economies and driving away residents, especially young people and businesses.
Channel 4’s Jon Snow is one of the campaign’s prominent supporters. He tweeted: ‘#Iona is one of the most beautiful spots in the UK – Can ONLY be reached from Fionnphort on Mull. But now @Argyleandbute Council have seized the only car parks which have always been free…and are charging up to £9…terrible news for island tourism.’
Angry Mull and Iona residents say the council failed to consult island residents or businesses before launching the Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) needed to introduce the charges.
‘The council is simply not listening. It is arrogant and abysmal leadership to ride roughshod over community concerns and refuse to produce a shred of evidence to support their case. They seem to think they know more about an island they are refusing to visit than the people who live on it,’ said Shiona Ruhemann, convenor of Iona Community Council.
‘As islanders with poor public transport links, we usually have no choice but to use cars when we need to get to the mainland for countless reasons, such as essential medical treatment or to visit our children who live in Oban during the week to attend high school,’ said Morven Gibson, general manager of South West Mull and Iona Development.
MSP for Argyll and Bute, Michael Russell warns the proposals would do untold damage. ‘The council has simply not thought through the implications of its plans and its failure to do any proper economic or social assessment – despite an offer of help from the Scottish Government – adds insult to injury. I would strongly advise the councillors to listen to this campaign and reject their officials’ advice which is both flawed and foolish,’ he said.
The Scottish Parliament Petitions Committee is expected to consider the petition at its last pre-recess session on June 27, where Mull and Iona community organisations want the committee to support a principle that parking must be free at all lifeline ferry ports.
Argyll and Bute Council Area committee is due to consider the parking charges on June 12.
Moray Finch, general manager of Mull and Iona Community Trust (MICT), said: ‘All Scottish islands are vulnerable to councils going after this easy revenue, so we need other islands to to show their support too.’