Iona parking ‘tax’ campaigners say they are being ‘gagged’

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‘Gagged’ campaigners wanting to stop the council imposing parking charges on residents and visitors to Iona are demanding they get a hearing on Mull.

Representatives from six Mull and Iona communities tried to halt a mainland meeting scheduled for yesterday at which Oban, Lorn and the Isles Area Committee was due to make a controversial decision on off-street parking charges.

When campaigners discovered they would not be able to make deputations at the meeting, they formally requested that the matter be referred to a hearing  on Mull and only when an Island Communities Impact Assessment has been carried out with the community and Scottish Government.

Shiona Ruhemann, from Iona Community Council, said the council proactively changed traffic regulation order (TRO) procedures last year without telling them first, wiping out the chance for people to address elected councillors at the decision-making meeting.

A letter to the council’s executive director of customer services, Douglas Hendry, sent by Iona Community Council, Mull and Iona Community Trust, Mull Community Council, Tobermory Harbour Association, Mull and Iona Ferry Committee and South West Mull and Iona Development warned that denying deputations would only further damage the council’s reputation and communities’ trust in it.

A spokesperson for Argyll and Bute Council told The Oban Times it was a quasi-judicial process, implementing a full council decision, which delegates the determination of the TRO to the Oban, Lorn and the Isles Area Committee.

‘The council has conducted an open consultation in line with this legal process. Members of the area committee received details of all the representations made and met with local community groups,’ she said.

But Dr Ruhemann said calling it an open consultation was ‘garbage’ and that feelings on Iona had been ‘completely ignored’.

‘There was not an open consultation. They ignored Iona completely. They did not even realise the car parks mattered to us. There was an abject failure to understand the linkages that are our lifelines. They have no understanding whatsoever.’

The six community groups said the report to councillors did not ‘accurately or fairly reflect’ their objections, which meant both objectors and elected council members were being dealt with ‘unfairly and with a lack of transparency’.

The groups felt the officers’ summary to councillors was so far off the mark that they amended it to fully reflect communities’ concerns.

Dr Ruhemann added: ‘If the charges go ahead, they will harm the sustainability of our island. The area committee does not have the information it needs to make a proper decision.’

Moray Finch, general manager of Mull and Iona Community Trust (MICT) said: ‘It’s incredibly sad that the council is pursuing this traffic regulation order and forcing the community to waste so much time trying to defend the island way of life.’

Long-term parking for islanders and visitors using 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.

The daily charges would be almost the same as London congestion charges, say campaigners. People would also have to keep returning to the car park to top up payments.

Islanders believe the parking charges would cripple island economies and drive away residents. Argyll and Bute MSP Michael Russell has also previously strongly advised the councillors to listen to campaigners and reject officials’ advice which, he says, is both ‘flawed and foolish’.

More than 1,800 people have signed a Scottish Parliament petition calling for an end to the plan and there were 258 official objections lodged with the council.

Officers were due to recommend the charges go ahead at Fionnphort, including a reduced 12-month rate for Iona residents costing £285 and limited to two permits per household.