Skye Bridge tolls to be recycled into bike shop

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

Highland Council aims to regenerate the area around the end of the bridge. Picture: Neil Hanna
Highland Council aims to regenerate the area around the end of the bridge. Picture: Neil Hanna

The now-redundant toll station was the focal point of protests when the bridge was opened in October 1995.

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

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

The scrapping of the toll in 2004 was celebrated, and the toll booth has lain empty ever since, becoming dilapidated.

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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 cycle paths – and making the toll station a bicycle hire shop.

The move has been welcomed by 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.

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

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The Big Lottery Fund has offered almost £250,000 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 a shortfall in the scheme. A report to the council’s 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 an area of land covering almost 100 acres on the outskirts of the village at the access point to the bridge. The area fell into disuse some years ago and much of it is now overgrown and unused.

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The report adds: “The current works are an essential precursor to any future development [of The Plock], creating the groundwork, developing access and bringing the area back into the life of the community.”

The proposals 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.

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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 ferry crossings, the Conservative Westminster government announced a bidding round to build a toll bridge. Construction began in 1992 and the bridge was opened on 16 October 1995.

In 2004, after years of protest, then Scottish transport minister Nicol Stephen MSP announced the bridge had been purchased for about £27 million, and toll collection ceased. During the preceding decade, £33.3m in tolls had been collected.