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Island's bridge campaigners now hoping for a sound decision

FOR all the tranquillity which life on the island of Luing affords, there are moments when its potholed, single-track roads take on the frenetic energy of the Gumball Rally.

The moments, though few, occur shortly before 8am, when the Argyll community's commuters make the dash for the MV Belnahua's three-minute voyage across a 250-yard stretch of the Cuan Sound to the neighbouring island of Seil.

From there, courtesy of Thomas Telford's bridge over the Atlantic, the mainland is within reach.

The Belnahua, however, has space for just six cars, and the sight of disgruntled late risers forced to wait for the next crossing is not uncommon.

Come the winter months, the return trip proves even more fraught. After 6pm, Luing is serviced only by a passenger ferry, necessitating an overnight stay for those islanders yearning after the bright lights of Oban and beyond.

Now, however, the community on the five miles long by two miles wide "Slate Island" is hopeful of being liberated from its geography. After a five-year campaign by residents, the island has been recommended for a 14 million project which will see a high-level bridge span the sound.

Ratified by an independent consultant and Argyll and Bute Council, which was once determined to retain an improved ferry service, the business plan advocating the project's go-ahead has been lodged with the Scottish Executive, which will make the final decision.

For Christine Bannister, the bridge will be a lifeline. Mrs Bannister and her husband, Derek, run Luing's only shop, a grocery store in the village of Cullipool. Because of time and costs, no-one will deliver to them. Instead, the couple must make trips to Oban for provisions, covering up to 120 miles a week.

"The bridge would make life so much easier," Mrs Bannister said. "No-one delivers to us at the moment and it's not easy going to Oban three times a week.

"Other businesses on Luing feel the same way, and so do ordinary people.

"You can't go to Oban in the evening and expect to get home. A bridge would let us go where we want, when we want."

While it is now nearing a conclusion, the future of Luing's transport links has been a long and divisive issue. Economic experts believe the benefits derived from building the bridge, which would have a lifespan of 120 years, would not outweigh the cost of its construction. However it is deemed favourable compared to continuing the ferry service - which brings in an annual revenue of 90,000 but costs 195,000 - or a 23 million tunnel, rendered unfeasible by geological constraints.

Stewart Turner, head of roads and amenity services at Argyll and Bute Council, believes the bridge would offer flexibility and "open the door on employment and social opportunities".

Barry Wilson, 72, a retired watchmaker who has owned a house on Luing for more than 30 years, and been a permanent resident for the past seven, agrees. A member of the island's Fixed Link Action Group (FLAG), he is optimistic the group's wishes will be granted by the new SNP administration, despite the pressing issues of Edinburgh's trams and improvements to the A9.

He said: "The current service just isn't good enough. If schoolchildren need to stay on in Oban during the evenings, their parents have to arrange overnight stays for them. People with business meetings in Glasgow have to do the same.

"It's been a long hard struggle. The Executive need to accept the report and act on it."

Hugh McQueen, 67, is concerned by the fact that Luing has the largest population of any Scottish island without a resident doctor or nurse on call during the day.

"You never know if an ambulance will be able to get across on the ferry", he said. "It's little things like that that could be made so much easier. I've been here all my years, and it's a special place. But even I've given in to the idea of a bridge."

Despite enthusiasm for a link, not everyone on Luing is in agreement. The council-commissioned independent report shows around six out of ten islanders want the fixed link. The rest are in favour of an improved ferry service.

A spokesman for the Executive said last night that it had received the report from Argyll and Bute Council and was currently considering it.


LUING has just under ten miles of single track roads, all of which are in a poor state of maintenance.

The island is home to two notable Iron Age duns or forts, and a 16th-century hunting lodge. It is famous for its slate, which was quarried until the middle of last century.

Car ownership on the island is higher than the average for the Argyll and Bute region and Scotland as a whole. Nationwide, 43 per cent of Scottish households have one car, but the figure swells to 50 per cent on Luing. The national average for second car ownership is 23 per cent but on Luing, it is 28 per cent. Some households have a second car used only for travel beyond the island.

Nearly one out of every two people use the ferry at least once a day. Three-quarters typically travel to Oban, but around one in ten go to Glasgow, Edinburgh, or further afield. The ferry carries about 20,000 passengers and 14,000 cars a year.

Around 1.65 million of Executive money designed to improve slipways is being ringfenced until it is decided whether to build the bridge. It is estimated the project would cost no less than 13.9 million. It is anticipated that the remaining finance would come from the Executive, the local authority, and European Structural Funds.

Livestock farming is the mainstay of agriculture on the island. The Cadzow family farms across the whole island, with seven people directly employed. Fishing and engineering are also prominent alongside small businesses such as a boat building firm, an antiques trade, beauty therapy, and fine art and crafts.

-- Edited by Rabbie Downunder at 02:16, 2007-06-25


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