Anger after island car park charges approved

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Councillors squeezed through off-street parking charges for Mull last week to boos and public cries of ‘poor show’.

Despite a warning of ‘mayhem and madness’ once the charges are imposed, members of Oban Lorn and the Isles Area Committee still voted in favour of the proposals, narrowly defeating an amended motion to reject the plan.

On Wednesday June 12, four out of seven councillors backed the motion to plough ahead with the new traffic regulation order (TRO). Independent Councillor Mary Jean Devon and SNP councillors Julie MacKenzie and Jim Lynch voted against.

The (TRO) will see Iona residents who use the Fionnphort off-street car park offered a 12-month parking permit for £95, 20 per cent of the full price, which they will also be able to use at Craignure car park.

A 12-month sail and park permit will also be offered at £95 to everyone using the long stay at Craignure.

It was also agreed to move ahead as quickly as possible with an on-street traffic regulation order (TRO) for Tobermory Main Street, starting with an initial consultation this autumn. At the same time, another consultation will also look at charging coaches after two hours at the Ledaig car park in the town.

Yesterday’s decision has angered residents on Mull and Iona as it flies in the face of their concerns and the hundreds of objections, which received high-profile media coverage. They say the TRO could damage the island’s economy.

Councillor Jim Lynch said the council had ‘missed a golden opportunity’ to work with the Scottish Government who had offered to help with an Island Community Impact Assessment.

The guidelines for that assessment is still being worked on as a key part of the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018, but should be available from the Scottish Government in October.

Oban North and Lorn councillor Julie MacKenzie said it was ‘a bad day for local democracy in Argyll and Bute’, adding: ‘Instead we see an area committee refusing to listen to the views of constituents and riding roughshod over the communities of Mull and Iona. I’m left seriously concerned that today’s decision potentially sets a dangerous precedent for all of Argyll and Bute’s island communities.’

The council’s traffic and development manager Jim Smith claimed communities had been properly consulted, a matter strongly disputed by islanders.

Reasons he gave for the TRO included safety risks from large vehicles parked too closely together during the annual Mull Music Festival and the need for the council to raise money.

At numerous points during the lengthy meeting, there were noises of disagreement and laughs in disbelief from objectors whose requests to speak at the meeting had been refused. An attempt by Mull and Iona Community Trust general manager Moray Finch to approach committee chairman councillor Elaine Robertson was refused.

During an earlier public question time, councillors were advised by officials not to respond to anything said on the Mull TRO because it could expose the council to legal challenge. However no one, including Councillor Robertson, knew what that challenge might be.

Speaking after the meeting, Iona Community Council convenor Dr Shiona Ruhemann described it as ‘a complete shambles’, accusing the council of ‘acting blindly’.

She said: ‘It’s just a dreadful lack of democracy and accountability. We had to sit gagged while the council officer made misrepresentations and the council rewarded that with a vote in favour of the charges. They refused an offer from the Scottish Government with an Island Community Impact Assessment (ICIA) and that’s where we should have started.’

Mhairi Killin said she had lost faith in the democratic process. Speaking on behalf of the Iona Business Forum, she said business turnover on the island had already fallen by about 10 per cent in the last 12 months with reduced visits from cruise ships, tour buses and organised tours, and feared the new charges would only make that worse, affecting independent visitors.

She also said traffic on the island could double if seasonal workers applied for permits to take their vehicles across just to avoid paying for parking – making Iona less appealing.

Mr Finch said the council’s process had been ‘shallow and superficial’. ‘We’re really disappointed that Argyll and Bute Council declined the offer from the Scottish  Government to assist with an ICIA. There has been a missed opportunity again for the council to set an example to the rest of Scotland. It’s ironic that the TRO will come into effect in the autumn of 2019 at the same time the Scottish Government’s island team is preparing to provide guidance on ICIAs.’

Within 24 hours of the decision, there were almost 200 ‘likes’ and comments on a Facebook apology by Brian Swinbanks, chairman of Tobermory Harbour Association, who had wanted the proposed charging fully considered for the island.

‘PARKING ….We lost, I lost … a group of Councillors who were not prepared to look at the Big Picture and who only. Saw ££££££ signs. I am incredibly sorry …..’ he wrote.

‘All of us have work so very hard for weeks. Worked to oppose this short sighted plan. We worked on a plan for all of Tobermory and for all of Mull and Iona. We worked not to oppose Traffic Regulation but to ensure that the impact of the proposed charging was fully considered for an Island Community,’ he said adding he was ‘so sad’ that the ‘majority of councillors could not work with us and see a better future.’

He said the TRO for Tobermory High Street would have a considerable knock-on effect for tourists and businesses and that  an idea to have a park at the top of the town was totally ignored. ‘Local discounts were offered at the last minute to sway the vote,’ he said.