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Skye Bridge

Volume 264: debated on Wednesday 18 October 1995

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To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on progress towards the completion of the Skye bridge. [36036]

I am delighted to say that the Skye bridge was opened by my right hon. Friend two days ago and is a great success. The hon. Gentleman chose not to attend the opening so he will be unaware of the many positive representations made by his constituents to my right hon. Friend. Those included representations from the convener of Highland regional council for improvements of the Kyle Prospect in the area of the former ferry marshalling area. I am delighted to announce that we shall make £250,000 available to Highland council to allow it to take forward that highly desirable local scheme at the earliest opportunity.

May I point out to the Minister that the convener of Highland region was the only significant elected representative that he met at the bridge because the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) was not there and nor were any of the Skye and Lochalsh district councillors in their official capacity. The only elected member present was the only person in governance in that part of the country who does not have his electoral base in either Skye or Lochalsh. That speaks for itself.

As for the extra money, would the Minister confirm that it was promised as part of the original package when Highland regional council voted for the bridge? It has taken all these years for it to come forward. As for the funding of the bridge, does the Minister agree that the completion is marked by the fact that the remedial work had begun before the official opening took place? Given that extra money is being expended on repairing the cracks to the bridge and to the infrastructure, will he give us an assurance that that extra expenditure will not be levied on the toll payers for years hence? They will have to pay enough as it is for the unjust imposition of a monopoly upon them.

The hon. Gentleman is ill informed about the cracks, which were largely cosmetic. Attention has been paid to them. [Laughter.] The hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) may laugh, but if he had dealt with construction he would know that when concrete is poured cracks develop frequently and have to be filled in. That is an absolutely straightforward job and the cracks pose no structural risk whatever.

My right hon. Friend made an award available for investing in people when he visited the bridge two days ago. The hon. Gentleman should bear in mind that his constituents will benefit enormously from the bridge, which will greatly increase tourism. What is more, those who pay tolls will pay less than they paid for the ferry, so they will benefit. Before long that bridge will be a free one when the costs have been paid off.

Does the Minister agree that the high-toll bridge project is tawdry, aesthetically unattractive, profoundly undemocratic and in every way unacceptable at the price that must be paid for it? In all those circumstances it was entirely appropriate that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State should have opened it. Will the Minister try to tell us in one sentence why the people who live in those communities should have inflicted upon them the highest tolls in Europe? Can he also tell us why Ministers who were babbling earlier today about choice have denied the people in those communities the choice of using a ferry rather than a monopoly bridge in order to line the pockets of the funders of the Tory party?

This was a partnership project. The Scottish Office provided about £8 million for the approach roads, which is a very significant figure. The tolls should pay off the costs in about 14 years. We envisage that the economy of the Western Isles and Skye will enormously benefit from a great increase in tourism. Average journey times will be at least 15 minutes less. In the summer peak times, it may save travellers up to an hour. That will make a considerable difference. There will be the economies of scale.

I remind the hon. Gentleman of the great benefits that will accrue to the islands as a result of that decision, which we believe will stand the whole of the north-west of Scotland in very good stead.