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Nessie's Loch Ness Times

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Established December 3rd, 1996
         Saturday 1st July 2000
Issue No 186

VAT Planned for Skye Bridge Tolls

A Government admission that the European Commission is likely to win its fight to add Value Added Tax (VAT) to Skye Bridge tolls has sparked a furious reaction in the Highlands.

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy warned: "The imposition of VAT on tolls could be the final straw for the Skye economy." The MP for Ross, Skye and Inverness West said that tolls are already keeping thousands of tourists on the mainland. He added: "The Government have got themselves in a mess. The sooner the tolls are ruled illegal and are lifted from the bridge, the sooner the Skye economy can start recovering from the damage they have caused." Highlands and Islands Liberal Democrat MSP John Farquhar Munro said the bridge was a lifeline to the communities that use it. He asked: "When will Europe realise that harmonisation is all very well, but when it is to the detriment of communities the practice fails to match the theory." Robbie the Pict, head of Skye Against the Tolls Legal Group said: "I hope this is the straw that breaks the camel's back and that there will be a re-examination of a fraudulent rip-off." He claimed that adding VAT to the tolls would turn a disaster for the island economy into a catastrophe. Portree councillor Drew Miller said: "This is going to be absolutely disastrous not only for residents but for hauliers and buses and a further blow to our tourist industry." He said one survey showed that 50 cars a day heading for Skye were turning around because of the cost of the crossing and students recently counted 65 doing a u-turn. And Mr Miller warned it would be bound to affect the price of goods on Skye and the Western Isles. Car drivers will have to pay 13.40 for a return trip over the bridge and buses nearly 100 if the European Court of Justice accepts Brussels' case for imposing the tax on road and bridge tolls across Europe. The current charges of 5.70 and 41.20 each way are the highest in the UK and probably the EU. The Commission's aim is to raise a huge sum from tolls on continental motorways. But the ruling expected in September will take in Skye Bridge tolls as well. Lord McIntosh of Haringey, a senior Government minister, warned the House of Lords that the European Court of Justice usually agrees with the opinion of the Advocate General - who has already said VAT must apply. But a treasury spokeswoman insisted this did not mean the Government is throwing in the towel. She claimed there are occasions when the court disagrees with its law officer. She revealed that the Treasury is already planning to delay imposing the tax for a further year - and will pick up the tab for back tax for the last four years, plus interest, demanded by Brussels. The charge on road and bridge tolls would raise just 10 million across the UK, said the spokeswoman. Lord Pearson of Rannoch, who joined in the House of Lords exchanges on the threatened tax said: "Of course the Government are going to lose. The Commission always win." He added: "The whole of the West Highlands economy is frail and the last thing we need is this sort of disadvantage imposed by faceless bureaucrats in Brussels."

"Road to the Isles"

The long awaited upgrading of a further stretch of the Road to the Isles has taken a step forward. Draft orders for the compulsory purchase of land between Arisaig and Kinsadel on the A830 have been published by the Scottish Executive and now awaits ministers formal approval. The orders, and the line of the proposed improvements, were subject to a public enquiry at Arisaig over two years ago by a Scottish Office reporter, who overruled objections. "Publication of the orders is part of the legal process and we do not expect any problems or delays," said Mallaig Highland councillor, Charlie King, who is also chairman of the authority's roads and transport committee. Mr King, along with the chairmen of community councils along the route, chamber of commerce representatives and road officials met recently to discuss peripheral issues, such as signposting. The new section will ne known as the Coastal Route, and councillors are anxious to ensure a high standard of interpretation and signposting to ensure by passed communities do not lose passing trade.

Island Community Fightback

An island community where the population has fallen by over a third in the last decade has formed a development committee in a bid to stem the decline. The entire community of Pennyghael on Mull is involved in a plan which includes looking at ways to attract new families, create affordable housing and bring jobs. Pennyghael Development Committee was formed after a local population count earlier this year revealed a drop from 107 in 1991 to 71. Charles Pease, its chairman, said: "When we found that the population of the area had dropped to 71 we felt worried enough to do something about it." Alastair MacDougall, local councillor for Mull, which is generally witnessing as increase in population, said he would do all he could to help the group in its efforts. He said: "They have had good meetings with big turnouts. Some of the local estates are quite positive in what they can do to help."

Dornoch Archive Goes On-line

The first digital archive in the Highlands, housed in Dornoch Library, opened to the public recently. By using modern technology both visitors and residents can gain access to the impressive collection of ancient burgh records. The digital archive comprises a collection of CDs on which are scanned records of Dornoch Town Council minutes dating from 1729 to 1975. These minutes can be accessed by particular year, or by volume, and print outs can be made of pages (at a nominal charge) which are of interest to the user. Also now scanned on CD is the Dornoch Jail Register during the period 1813 to 1840. Among the inmates of the Jail during this time was the Factor of the Sutherland Estate, Patrick Sellar, who was arrested and awaiting trial for crimes including cruelty and wilful fire-raising. Highland Council's cultural and leisure services is responsible for the preservation and storage of archive material in the Highlands and has, for sometime, wanted to make this information more accessible.

50 Years a "Postie"

A postman who provided much more than a delivery service to a rural Inverness-shire patch over the last 28 years was recently given a heartfelt stamp of approval by the local community. Willie Urquhart, who lives in Balloch with his wife Isobel, became a stalwart of the community he covered after taking up the post all those years ago. As a mark of respect, the community awarded him the "Freedom of Abriachan". A presentation was made at Dochgarroch Village Hall to allow members of the local community to thank him for his contribution to the area. Judith Taylor, of Inverness West Community Council, said: "Willie is very, very well thought of in the area - it will be lost without him. He goes to everything which is on in the area and has shown tremendous community spirit over the years."

Bid to Cash in on Trees

A new trust has been set up to secure community spin-offs from publicly owned woodlands in north Sutherland. The current interest is focused on Borgie Forest, near Skerray which is being targeted for an eventual buy-out. Interest in the venture took root last summer and was given a major fillip when it won the backing of Highlands and Islands minister Alasdair Morrison during a visit to the area. A mailshot sent to every household in the parishes of Durness, Tongue and Farr resulted in over 300 joining the trust. Forty people attended the launch of the trust in Tongue when attention focused on the potential community involvement in the 3,136 hectare Borgie Forest. The ultimate goal of the trust would be to mount a community buyout of the forest, and a delegation has made a fact finding trip to Laggan where a community trust has negotiated a management agreement with Forest Enterprise.

"Ceud Mile Failte"

For the third successive year the Inverness Link of Chernobyl Children Life Line is organising a summer visit by a group of children from Belarus. Six girls and six boys, all aged eleven, will arrive at Inverness airport on Sunday August 27, and stay with local host families in what will be an action packed holiday. The youngsters have all been affected by the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear accident which has continued to cast a shadow over Belarus since the explosion on April 26, 1986. With 70% of Belarus contaminated, many parts of the country were evacuated, and will remain uninhabited for many generations. A holiday in the UK gives the children the chance to recuperate in the clean air of the Highlands. Dennis Hopkins, chairman of the Inverness Link says: "We would like to welcome another Link - Fort William - as the first in the West Highlands. We wish them every success and hope to work closely with them to ensure many more children come here in future years. "In previous years we received considerable support from the local community, and once again many have kindly agreed to help. "The Inverness Link would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their generosity." Last year the Chernobyl children were treated to a number of days out as well as visiting Caley Stadium and watching a league match.

Charity Event

Staff at the Scottish Co-op's Inshes superstore in Inverness recently donated more than 11,000 to Children 1st. Another "2,500 was donated by the Telford Street store. The money was raised during a five month campaign by Scottish Co-op for the charity, which raised an incredible total of 140,000.

Political Roundup

Power Boost

Nearly two-thirds of voters in Scotland believe the Scottish Parliament should have more powers, a poll showed recently. The System Three poll for BBC Scotland also showed Scots believe the Edinburgh administration will be far more important that Westminster in the future. But only a quarter of those polled regarded the Scottish Parliament's performance so far as "quite good" and a mere 2% thought it had been "very good".

Highland Weather Forecast

Saturday Afternoon
Cloudy/rain/drizzle, eases pm. Bright spells. Winds light E.SE. Temperature 13c to 18c.
Saturday Night
Mainly cloudy, patchy rain or drizzle. Winds light/mod S.SE. Temperature 06c to 10c.
Dry/sunny spells in the morning. Cloud/light rain pm although this will clear away to become dry overnight.
Mainly dry with scattered cloud and sunny spells. Some showers may develop pm.

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This is Caledonia ( Caley for short ) A Ness-Scape family member and mascot. She is a White German Shepherd. Caley has decided to take over the editing of Nessie's Loch Ness Times, and she's sure she'll make a good job of it. What do you think?

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