Calls for new west Highland local authority

Calls have been for a new council in the Highlands.  Picture: Chris Furlong/Getty Images)
Calls have been for a new council in the Highlands. Picture: Chris Furlong/Getty Images)
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A vast tract of the west Highlands of Scotland should be overseen by a new local authority, according to prominent politicians in the region.

An SNP MP and MSP have called for the creation of a new body with responsibility for the Skye, Lochalsh and Lochaber areas.

Ian Blackford and Dave Thompson claim the communities in the north west of the country would be best served by a dedicated council separate from the existing Highland Council.

The parliamentarians say the challenges facing the region are unique in the mainland and have more in common with island communities such as Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles.

The plan, which could pave the way for the creation of a new body known as Inverness City Council - has been officially lodged with the Scottish Government as part of its consultation exercise into provisions for a future Islands Bill.

However, the contentious proposal has been criticised by other politicians in the area who say it is not necessary.

Explaining why he and Mr Blackford had made this submission, Mr Thompson, the MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, said that Skye, Lochalsh and Lochaber was an “islands and mountainous coastal region” that experiences all the complexities of connectivity that the northern and Western Isles share.

He said: “I believe there is a strong case for Skye, Lochalsh and Lochaber to have its own council and Scottish parliamentary constituency with the same status as Orkney, Shetland, and Na h-Eileanan an lar.”

Mr Blackford, the MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, said initial public reaction to the plan has been “very positive” but said a wider discussion would take place in order to gauge support.

He explained: “We will be canvassing the electorate in Skye, Lochalsh and Lochaber in due course to see how they feel about the idea, as any proposal is only as good as the public backing it receives.

“This is a great opportunity for a very positive development for the west Highlands.”

Their SNP colleague, Drew Hendry, the MP for Inverness MP, declined to endorse the idea of hiving off a new local authority from Highland Council, but said there was a “debate to be had” over the issue.

Calls for the creation of a Inverness City Council have been growing in recent months after Richard Laird, the deputy leader of the SNP group at Highland Council, made the suggestion.

He claimed there was “no local government in the Highlands,” describing the existing setup as “regional government at best.”

“The things that suit communities in Caithness will not necessarily work in Lochaber, and things that work in Nairn will not necessarily work in Skye,” Mr Laird added.

“We need local solutions to local issues and the structure of Highland Council won’t allow for that.”

However, the leader of the SNP group, Maxine Smith, last month criticised Mr Laird’s comments, saying she was “surprised” to learn of his views and that he had not spoken “with any authority from the group.”

Last month, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon refused to rule out the break-up of Highland Council when she launched a new consultation on devolving powers to Scotland’s northern communities.

Speaking during a visit to Skye, she said: “We have got no plans at the moment for changing the structure of local authorities, but on the other hand we have opened a consultation on our island communities and it is really important that we listen to all of the proposals put forward in that consultation.”