Plans to turn Skye Bridge toll into bike hire shop

A legacy of the contentious Skye Bridge tolls could soon be transformed into a cycle project which boosts the local economy.

The redundant toll station on the controversial crossing was the focal point of protests when the bridge was controversially opened 19 years ago.

Within minutes of the new link opening, anti-toll campaigners were being arrested for failing to pay the then £5 charge.

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Over the coming months and years, a total of 130 were later convicted in court for non-payment, many challenging the fee in civil cases.

The eventual scrapping of the toll in 2004 was celebrated in the west of Scotland, but made the much-hated toll-booth became redundant.

It has lain empty ever since, and has become dilapidated.

The Hamilton Park Trust now plans to regenerate land next to the bridge at Plock of Kyle, which it owns, in a £324,000 project.

Along with Kyle and Lochalsh Community Trust, the proposal includes creating new cycle paths in the area – and make the toll station a bicycle hire shop.

The move has been greeted with approval from the local community.

Skye councillor Drew Millar said: “This is a project which will turn a negative into a positive. It has to be supported.

“It is a shame that building has never been utilised since the tolls were scrapped, but now we are seeing a fantastic idea being proposed.

“It is an ideal location for a tourism project, and if the cycle path project goes ahead then I can see a bike hire shop working.

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“Anything that has the potential of boosting the local economy has to be given the backing of the council.”

The Big Lottery fund has offered almost £250,000 funding towards the project.

Highland Council has already agreed to grant £15,000, but has now been asked to contribute a further £49,404 to meet the shortfall in the scheme.

A report to the Finance, Housing and Resources Committee which meets this week is recommending approval of the grant.

The report by officials states: “The project will enhance the use of the Plock as a tourist feature, contribute to the council’s Carbon Clever Initiative by providing new cycling opportunities and avoid traffic through the residential areas of Kyle by providing direct access to the Plock from the A87.”

The Plock is a large area of land, almost 100 acres, on the outskirts of the village at the access point to the Skye Bridge.

The area fell into disuse some years ago and now much of the land is unmanaged, overgrown, largely inaccessible and unused by most of the community.

The outcomes the project seeks to achieve are to bring the community together to improve their environment, to open up Kyle’s main land asset to the whole community, to provide new cycle-friendly routes and facilities, and to be a catalyst for community development and regeneration.

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The report adds: “While achieving the full potential of the Plock is beyond the scope of the current project, the current works are an essential precursor to any future development, creating the groundwork, developing access and bringing the area back into the life of the community.”

The new proposed tracks would provide cycle routes between the Skye Bridge and the Plockton Road and link directly to the Leisure Centre and Swimming Pool.

Discussions are currently on-going between the Scottish Government and the Community Trust for the purchase of the former Skye Bridge Toll Station.

After the project is completed, the trust said all roads, paths, signage and other capital works will be maintained or replaced at their expense.

The land at issue was part of Hamilton Park, which was given to the people of Kyle in 1947 by the landowner, Sir Daniel MacKinnon Hamilton.

In the trust deed, Sir Daniel stressed the land was being conveyed under the special stipulation and condition that trustees should “for all time’’ maintain it as a pleasure park.

In 1989, after centuries of crossings by sea, the Conservatives announced a bidding round to construct a toll bridge. Construction began in 1992 and the bridge was opened by on 16 October 1995.

The first major capital project funded by the Private Finance Initiative, the bridge has been controversial since its construction was announced, with contractors making money through tolls.

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In the bridge’s first year of operation it recorded traffic of 612,000 vehicles, a third more than the ferry’s official numbers.

In 2004, after years of protest, then Scottish Transport Minister Nicol Stephen announced that the bridge had been purchased for approximately £27 million, and toll collection immediately ceased. During the preceding decade £33.3 million in tolls had been collected.