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Caithness News Bulletins January 2003

January 2003 Caithness.org News 2002

Dec 2002

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CAMPAIGNING HIGHLAND COUNCIL SETS TWO TARGETS FOR THE NEW YEAR

The Highland Council hopes to make progress on two campaigning issues in the New Year. The Council is arguing strongly for the Scottish Executive to: -

  • Remove the 50% Council Tax discount offered to the owners of second homes and long-term empty homes; and
  • Enter into early negotiations with Skye Bridge Ltd to buy out the toll regime, thereby "unlocking the potential of Skye and Lochalsh".

The Council has led much of the debate so far on Council Tax on second and long-term empty homes and has congratulated the Scottish Executive for issuing a consultation paper on the issue.

In responding to the Executive, the Council has reaffirmed its view that "in the interests of equity", the full Council Tax should be levied on all second homes. This would encourage more affordable accommodation for year-round residents and help sustain local communities.

They do not want discretion to reduce or remove the Council Tax discount on second homes or long-term empty homes as they say this could lead to inequality of decision making throughout Scotland.

They also believe that the extra income raised by removing the discount should be retained locally to spend on essential services.

The Council has also long argued for removal of the Skye Bridge tolls and is eager to step up the campaign by asking the Executive to use all the money it intends to spend to subsidise the tolls over the next 10 years to pay off the bridge company now.

Depute Transport Minister Lewis MacDonald has said the tolls will be paid off between 2009 2013, depending of future traffic levels, but the Council wishes to know how much money is still needed to pay off the private bridge company. It believes it would be cheaper to pay off the debt now.

Recently, the Council commissioned a study, which identified that removal of the tolls could generate 200 jobs and inject 3.5 million per year into the economy of Skye and Lochalsh.

The Council is also asking the Executive to introduce the sale of "user-friendly" undated books of six tickets for regular users and as a local tourism incentive. At present, discounted tickets are sold in blocks of 20 and are subject to an expiry date.