Motorhome levy option in Western Isles sees calls for more action in Lochaber

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Last week’s decision by Western Isles Council to examine the possibility of charging motorhome users travelling to the islands a fee prompted calls in for action to ensure such vehicles are contributing sufficiently to the Lochaber economy.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar is to start discussions with the Scottish Government, CalMac and the tourism industry on establishing an Outer Hebrides Infrastructure Renewal Fund.

The purpose of the fund would be to generate additional income which would be ring-fenced for investment in visitor infrastructure.

The Comhairle said it was open to exploring with industry, Government and CalMac the most effective way for motorhome users to contribute to the fund, including via some form of fee being levied.

Councillor Uisdean Robertson, chairman of Transportation and Infrastructure, said the increase in visitor numbers, especially the rise in motorhome users, had put significant strain on local infrastructure and the Comhairle needed to think how best to invest in that infrastructure for the future.

Councillor Robertson continued: ‘In the first instance, we would like to explore a way in which motorhome users could become pilot contributors to such a fund and we will open discussion with Government, CalMac and the industry to explore these potentials.’

Asked if there were any lessons for Lochaber from the Comhairle’s initiative, Caol and Mallaig ward councillor Ben Thompson said he welcomed this sort of initiative but that there already existed a system to do this in Lochaber – namely parking charges for motorhomes.

Lochaber councillor Ben Thompson. Photograph: Abrightside Photography. FW Councillor Ben Thompson 1no JP
Lochaber councillor Ben Thompson. Photograph: Abrightside Photography.
FW Councillor Ben Thompson 1no JP

He explained: ‘There is a specific levy for motorhomes to park in council car parks and the money is used by the council for roads and transport infrastructure. I think the council needs to extend that system, as well as helping and encouraging other car park owners to do similar.

‘Kilmallie Community Centre and Nevis Range are now doing that and the council should be helping other landowners who want to do the same.

‘Unfortunately we have not yet seen Forest and Land Scotland [FLS] or Scottish Canals take up the baton. There’s one large car park I pass daily that is always full of large motorhomes staying for free. Meanwhile the playpark right next to it is in a dire state. A motorhome parking charge could be used to repair it quickly.

‘The council has committed to a 50 per cent share of the excess profit from new or increased parking charges being available for local projects so that car park users see the direct benefit of what they are paying.

‘That applies to all vehicle types, not just motorhomes. I’d encourage FLS, Scottish Canals, the National Trust and other similar organisations to make similar commitments about local spend of any increased car parking income they raise.

‘If the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar proposal is that these sorts of charges should be ringfenced for local project spend, I’d definitely support that.’

His fellow ward councillor Denis Rixson told the Lochaber Times: ‘I don’t believe in targeting any group but I do believe visitors should pay charges in proportion to the strain they place on local infrastructure.

‘So motorhomes should pay higher parking charges because they take up more space. Equally they should dump their waste in approved places and pay a proportionate charge.’

Asked to comment, an FLS spokesperson told the Lochaber Times : ‘All income generated from our campervan trial at selected car parks across Scotland contributes to on-going maintenance of visitor facilities and the local forest habitat.’

And a spokesperson for the National Trust for Scotland said: ‘The National Trust for Scotland imposes parking charges on non-members at many of our properties, including Glencoe and Glenfinnan.

‘The income derived from this is ploughed back into the substantial costs of the upkeep and conservation of these places which in turn make a significant contribution to local economies.’

Na h-Eileanan an Iar MSP Alasdair Allan told the Lochaber Times that tourism is a vital part of the Western Isles economy, but the needs of residents must also be prioritised.

Alasdair Allan.
Alasdair Allan is the constituency MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar.
alasdair_allan_001

‘This summer, the ferry service was at times simply unable to accommodate both groups, with those who had booked months in advance often being the ones who got on the ferry.

‘I therefore hope the forthcoming fares review of CalMac ferry routes will look anew at the pricing structure, which currently charges a fairly large campervan the same as a car. The Comhairle’s proposals are also worthy of consideration and I would support any conversation which sought to promote the tourism infrastructure in the Western Isles.’

 

CAPTION:

There are calls for any increases in car park charges for motorhomes – such as these pictured in Fort William last summer – to be ringfenced for spending in Lochaber.
Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos

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