By Andrew Baxter, 17-Sep-2013 14:44:00
On Thursday, councillors will discuss the final proposals for an inflation-busting increase of fares on the Corran Ferry. Although, it’s an improvement on the crazy proposals produced earlier this year, in reality it heavily penalises anyone who travels on the ferry on a regular basis.
Those buying the book of 30-discounted tickets will be paying an extra 15% from 1st November if the proposals are nodded through.
That’s already on top of a 4% increase in April and another automatic increase of 4% planned for next April. That means, in the space of just a year passengers will see their fares go up by 25%. For someone who makes two return journeys a week, they will be stumping up an extra £100 a year.
At the public meeting, held last week in Strontian, we were presented with the final fait accompli. As suspected, none of the excellent suggestions made by local residents are included in the final report to councillors. In February, I asked for a full social and economic impact study to be prepared before any increases were implemented. The minutes of that Transport committee confirmed:
“the social and economic impact of the ferry and its pricing regime would be taken fully into consideration as part of the consultation, with proposed increases explained in detail and put into context.”
That impact study was promised at several consultation meetings but has never been produced. Councillors can’t possibly vote for such massive increases without a full understanding of the wider effect on fragile rural communities that make up the peninsula.
At the Transport committee I will be fighting for my constituents, to convince the Council to put a halt to any further fare increases until we know the full consequences for local residents and businesses. To do so, I need your help. You may have already signed the Fair Fares Petition, which I organised earlier this year. But I need you to do one more thing ahead of Thursday’s meeting.
Please write to the Chairman of the Transport Committee, Councillor Graham Phillips, to register your opposition to these latest proposals and explain how they will impact on you, your family and friends. Rather than cutting and pasting anything from this post, use your own words, this will carry more weight than repeating what I have said. You can email Councillor Phillips at Graham.Phillips.email@example.com. Whilst you are at it, you can also let council leader, Councillor Drew Hendry know: firstname.lastname@example.org and our local MSP Dave Thompson: Dave.Thompson.email@example.com
Don’t forget to copy me in at firstname.lastname@example.org, as I would like to use some of your examples during the debate on Thursday.
We have already made the Highland Council sit up and listen once, with a lot more noise we can do it again.
By Andrew Baxter, 14-May-2013 14:51:00
Sunday 2nd June is the 60th Anniversary of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
On Coronation Day news reached Britain, of the historic first ascent of Mount Everest by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. Closer to home Fort William Burgh Councillors climbed Ben Nevis to present their Loyal Greeting from the “highest level” via a BBC Broadcast (in English and Gaelic).
Sixty years on, as a local councillor for Fort William and South Lochaber, I will slowly plod up Ben Nevis and celebrate that historic day with my own Coronation Tea at the summit. What better way to acknowledge the Queen’s service than recognising those who serve our country in a very different way - those heroes who serve in our armed forces.
I am raising money for Help for Heroes to support their work with injured service personnel. My target is £600 - £10 for every year since the Coronation. You can make a donation, securely online - please give generously!
I will be taking a modern day version of the Loyal Greeting to the summit (in English and Gaelic) along with the names of everyone who has donated to the worthwhile cause I am supporting. I will forward this to Buckingham Palace after it returns to lower ground. I have extended an invitation to my fellow councillors to join me on the day, even if they are unable to walk to the summit with me, I hope that they will sign the Loyal Greeting whilst also donating to a very worthwhile cause.
If you want to join me on the summit and raise a cuppa (and perhaps a wee dram) email me for details: email@example.com
By Andrew Baxter, 07-May-2013 08:10:00
For a long time, I have thought we should be encouraging people back in to our town centres to live. Unfortunately, our high streets have changed over the last few decades and even an economic recovery will not see all the now vacant shops occupied. It makes good sense to convert some of these empty units into housing, especially as we are desperate for smaller one and two bedroom accommodation in the Highlands. The Scottish Government also thinks this is the way forward, launching a £2 million fund earlier this year, to encourage housing providers to develop affordable housing in vacant town centre properties. I have written to our Director of Housing asking what plans Highland Council has to bid for some of this money and whether we are actively looking at bringing some of the empty shops in Fort William High Street back in to more productive use.
By Andrew Baxter, 06-May-2013 16:00:00
There is an interesting motion, put forward by two of my independent colleagues, to be debated at this week’s full council meeting. It seeks an assurance from Highland Council to retain offices in our city and town centres as a clear commitment to their economic success. It comes as the council considers a rationalisation of its various office premises across the Highlands. Although on paper moving staff out of town centre premises may result in cost-savings it would also remove hundreds of people that use the shops around them. The potential economic costs on the wider community could be enormous. We need to look at the future of our town centres, in particular Fort William, as a whole rather than in a piecemeal way. We need a long-term vision for our High Street, which considers all the factors that affects it future. Alas, such a joined-up approach seems to be ignored when it comes to some of my Lochaber colleagues.
By Andrew Baxter, 06-May-2013 11:51:00
In the Fort William and Ardnamurchan ward, there are three new planning applications this week.
Extension to house to form residential annexe
Extension to house
Change of use of land to accommodate
4no. static caravans
Land 45m West of The Underwater Centre
You can view the application details and make comments of objection or support via the Highland Council planning website here. Follow the instructions on this page; you will need the planning application website shown above to find the individual application.
For more information about commenting on any individual planning application, you can find advice here.
By Andrew Baxter, 09-Apr-2013 15:27:00
In recent weeks, there has been lots of speculation about whether Tesco will come to Fort William. The following email from the Tesco corporate affairs team has just popped in to my inbox. It does nothing to dispel my fear that they are just land banking the site to prevent a competitor getting a new store on the West coast.
“We are still committed to delivering the new store at Blar Mhor. Build programmes for our developments have to be considered against other developments in the UK, and as part of our current store build programme, we are working towards opening our new store at Blar Mhor no earlier than 2015. Unfortunately, I do not have more specific dates at the moment, but I will update you and the community when I do."
Meanwhile our town centre store continues to trade well, employs more than 50 people, and remains popular with customers. As you may be aware, we intend to continue to keep our town centre store open and trading once the Blar Mhor store opens in order to continue to serve customers in the town centre.”
Will Tesco ever come to the Blar? The answer, at the moment, seems to be no time soon.
By Andrew Baxter, 09-Apr-2013 12:00:00
Over the weekend, several newspapers reported about Scottish councils spending £2 million on airfares, during a three-year period, some to exotic destinations. It’s always important that councils justify every penny of council-taxpayers money they spend. Even more so, when money is spent on flights to places like Australia and South Africa. I am dubious about the value of sending councillors or officers to far-flung places, for a conference or “fact-finding” trip. Of course, the trip will be justified as providing a particular benefit or opportunity for the council but I doubt there is any real assessment of return on the investment.
There was no mention of Highland Council in any of the reports. Neither is there any detail published within the Freedom of Information section of the council’s own website. Incidentally, there is no detail online for any Freedom of Information request published after February 2011. I have asked council officers to release this information so that councillors and residents can also scrutinise the details themselves. Of course, that sort of information should be published routinely for public scrutiny anyway.
As soon as I have that information, I will be posting it here on my website.
By Andrew Baxter, 08-Apr-2013 06:51:00
Good news as April closure scrapped
Transport Scotland this week postponed their latest crazy plan to operate overnight closures on the A82 through North Ballachulish and Onich at the start of the tourist season. The decision follows fierce opposition from local residents and businesses, supported by me as local councillor.
It’s brilliant news that the public body, responsible for our trunk roads, finally listened to local opinion and postponed the planned works, due to start on 21st April. This would have involved two weeks of overnight closures in the run up to one of the busi-est times of the year in South Lochaber. In fact, the works would have clashed with both the Moidart Road Run and the beginning of the Pre 65 Trials. There was also no contingency for an overrun in the works; this could have resulted in disruption during the Scottish Six Day Trials.
This now gives Transport Scotland the opportunity to plan these works properly, rather than sneaking out a consultation a few days before Easter. Following this week's Nether Lochaber Community Council, the local community has suggested the works should go ahead immediately after the English half-term holiday or in early March next year. That is no different from the works that were successfully completed earlier this year and it would still fit in with this financial year’s allocation of funding. I have written to Transport Scotland asking them to take this course of action. You can demonstrate community support for this more sensible option by writing to Mr Bob Mitchell, Area Manager North for Transport Scotland. You can email: Bob.Mitchell@transportscotland.gsi.gov.uk or write to: Transport Scotland, Buchanan House, 58 Port Dundas Road, Glasgow, G4 0HF
This success is a great example of residents working together to stop a big, overbearing public body ignoring their views and trying to push through a proposal before anyone notices.
By Andrew Baxter, 03-Apr-2013 06:10:00
Transport Scotland needs to think again on their latest A82 closure plan before they damage our tourist trade at the beginning of the season.
In a consultation, published just four working days before the Easter break, they asked for opinions on a proposal to upgrade another section of the A82, in Onich, starting on 21st April. The overnight closures would be in place in the run up to the Pre 65 and Scottish Six Day Trials, when businesses across South Lochaber are already fully booked for these major events. Noisy, disruptive roadworks in the middle of the night, is not the welcome we want to give visitors.
I can’t think of a worst time for these works. Both TranServ and Transport Scotland have repeatedly been asked not to undertake major works during the main tourist season. Yet again, they seem to ignore those pleas and fail to understand the impact on local business.
This was sneaked out the weekend before Easter, giving people a matter of days to respond. There was no opportunity for the community council to meet and discuss the plans. That isn’t consulting, it’s insulting.
Everyone knows this work needs to be undertaken, but when I met with Transport Scotland before Christmas, I was told this work would not take place until the end of 2013, at the earliest. What’s the sudden hurry now?
It’s time for Transport Scotland to think again and work with local people, instead of bulldozing their opinions to one side.
By Andrew Baxter, 10-Mar-2013 06:53:00
The Inverness Courier features a story about more pothole problems - you can read it here.
Although this news story refers to a road in Inverness, it's a problem that we share across the Highlands. Yet, during the recent budget debate, when I urged the council to spend an extra £2 million on maintaining and repairing roads I was dismissed. Then I was criticised for describing some of our roads as being in a worst state than a third-world country.
Is there a road clsoe to you in a shocking state or repair? Let me know!
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