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Council criticised for taking too long to start work on causeway on anniversary of South Uist tragedy

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An island community that suffered the loss of five of their own in the 2005 storms has criticised the council for taking too long to start work to ensure there is not another tragedy.

Today marks the 12th anniversary of the deaths of Archie and Murdina Macpherson, their two children, five-year-old Hannah, and Andrew, seven, and Mrs Macpherson’s father Calum Campbell.

Three generations were wiped out when the family were swept into the sea as they attempted to escape a hurricane on South Uist.

The South Ford Causeway, a route which runs more than half a mile between Benbecula and South Uist, acted like a dam on the night of the storm.

Water overflowed into neighbouring villages and submerged local roads at Iochdar, including the one the Macphersons were driving on.

But it has taken until now for surveying to begin for work to prevent such a thnig happening again.

Relatives of the family and campaigners have long been calling for an 820ft bridge section to be put into the causeway.

Experts recommended installing the £20million bridge in 2012 to prevent a repeat of the tragedy.

Yesterday, Western Isles Council confirmed that it is about to go out to tender for part of a feasibility study for the bridge.

A spokesman said he hoped the tender would be issued “within the week”.

And he confirmed that a £2million flood prevention scheme to repair nearby sand barriers and dunes will go ahead this summer.

However, South Uist Councillor Donnie Steele said: “It is getting tiresome now, the delaying tactics of the council. They gave an estimated figure of £20million to try to put us off, but you can’t put a price on people’s lives.

“This is just taking too long.

“We were told this feasibility study would be completed by December, and they haven’t even started it yet.”

In a joint statement, Iochdar Community Council and community landlord Storas Uibhist, said: “The council has had nearly 12 years to action interim measures, including four years since the report was released.

“Why do the council continue to push forward other options within the study that are temporary fix at best and at worst a waste of funding? They should instead engage with the community and help the community by gaining the funding for the essential works.

“The only fitting memorial to those who lost their lives in January 2005 is the construction of the recommended bridge section in the South Ford Causeway. Anything else is just ineffectual and an avoidance of responsibility.”

A council spokesman said: “We have made representations to the Scottish Transport Minister that this is an exceptional needs case and we continue to make the case.

“We are proceeding with both schemes in that the work on the £2million project will proceed over the summer.

“We are preparing the work for the feasibility study to better inform us of the work required for the bigger scheme.

“We are proceeding matters as expeditiously as possible.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Flood defences are kept under continual review, particularly after major incidents. That is why the Scottish Government have provided £42 million every year since 2008 to enable local authorities to invest in flood protection schemes.

“A flood protection scheme for the South Ford area is included in the Flood Risk Management Strategy for the Outer Hebrides which was published in December 2016, and funding will be available to the council via the local government settlement to begin work on the scheme when it is ready to do so. It is important that local communities are fully consulted and councils are able to take the time to get a well-planned and well-designed scheme in place.

“The council is also considering an option to relieve flooding by creating larger openings in the South Fords causeway. The viability and funding for this option is being investigated by the council outwith the flood risk management process.”

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