'Bridge Over the Atlantic' proves to be island's undoing

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IT'S a simple masonry structure that spans just 22 metres, but for the residents of Seil it is enough to deprive them of their status as "islanders" and lose a local authority £400,000 in funding.

• Seil's unique 'Bridge Over the Atlantic' has now proved the undoing of the island

The landmass in the Firth of Lorn is known as the Isle of Seil, despite being connected to the Argyll mainland by the "Bridge Over the Atlantic" since 1792.

But the Clachan Bridge has now led the Scottish Government to decide Seil is not an island at all. And with its loss of status comes a 400,000 a year cut to Argyll and Bute Council's Special Islands Needs Allowance (SINA), which the authority is allocated to provide services to offshore constituents.

The change was revealed after the government announced the budget settlements for councils next year. It is claimed Seil's change of status was agreed with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla), but Argyll and Bute Council say it came as a surprise to them.

A spokeswoman for the authority said: "The SINA reduction is a result of the Scottish Government no longer classifying Seil as an island, because it has a road bridge – even though this bridge and Seil's island status has existed for hundreds of years."

The Clachan Bridge is a single-arched, hump-backed masonry structure just four car-lengths long and spanning the Clachan Sound, seven miles south-west of Oban.

Originally designed by Thomas Telford, it was built between 1792 and 1793 by engineer Robert Mylne and became known as the Bridge Over the Atlantic. It links the west coast of the Scottish mainland with Seil, which was the home of the late Frances Shand Kydd, mother of Diana, Princess of Wales.

Seumas Anderson, chairman of the local community council, is also confused over the change of status. He said: "Seil has always been regarded as an island, with a slight advantage. The name is the Isle of Seil, which says it all in the title.

"We have a lot of inhabited islands, all with their unique problems, whether it be a quarter of a mile or 20 yards of water between them and the mainland.

"It is a lot of money to lose, but they are looking to penny-pinch any way they can."

• The island was once home to the late Frances Shand Kydd, mother of Diana, Princess of Wales. Picture: PA

Opposition councillors insisted council leader Dick Walsh should have known about the change, as he took part in talks with the government and Cosla on 19 November, when new funding criteria were decided.

But the council spokeswoman said: "The two areas of funding which contain the majority of Argyll and Bute Council's reduction – the Special Island Needs Allowance and the Supporting People Allocation – were not highlighted in the Cosla papers.

"Those present would not have been able to identify a reduction of allowance in those particular areas."

As well as Argyll and Bute, SINA has been awarded to councils in Orkney, Shetland, Western Isles and North Ayrshire but no changes in these areas have been made.

It is paid to authorities to recognise the extra costs involved in providing services, such as refuse collection, to islands which usually involve the use of ferries.

For the past three years Argyll and Bute received 2.36 million for 25 inhabited islands in its jurisdication, but this will be reduced to 1.969m in 2011-12.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "The Special Islands Needs Allowance is paid to local authorities with inhabited islands to help cover the additional costs of providing public services over water.

"Islands with road bridge links are not eligible, as it is clearly easier to get there by road.

"In many cases the costs of providing public services on such islands will be similar to rural communities on the mainland, which are already accommodated for under the general distribution formula.

"Following a fresh review of the criteria used to determine next year's settlement it was highlighted that Seil is linked to the mainland by a bridge and therefore not eligible. The criteria was agreed with Cosla and therefore updated."