Central belt to Skye air link gets go ahead from Highland Council

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A project to link air travel between Skye and the central belt of Scotland was given the go-ahead at Highland Council yesterday.

The council earmarked £170,000 for a project to develop Ashaig airstrip to receive two 16-seater flights per day from Glasgow and Edinburgh, with test flights happening as soon next year.

In council papers, it suggests that the council intends to work with Highlands and Islands Airways Limited for the flights.

The proposal was broadly welcomed by 19 members of the environment, development and infrastructure committee of the council.

Two Liberal Democrat members of the local authority opposed the plans in light of the council’s environmental commitment signed last week.

Councillor Ronald MacDonald, from Skye, said the project was “critically important”. He said he had heard no opposition from any community council on Skye, he said: “People in north and south Skye generally support this”.

He added that the air strip will make the area “more equitable for people,” claiming that the length of journey to the central belt made it impossible to get there and back in a day.

Highland Council agreed to pay £170,000 of additional funds to “undertake further engagement with statutory bodies” and carry out preparation work at the airport for daily flights to the islands. While the airstrip will not be extended, a terminal building will be built at Ashaig.

To start the process rolling, chairman Allan Henderson agreed to write to the Transport Secretary on behalf of Highland Council, transport authority HITrans and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, seeking financial and technical support to progress trial air services between Skye and Glasgow.

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Public consultation and applications for licences will now be progressed, with flights expected as early as next year.

During the debate, Councillor Angela MacLean said she wouldn’t support the air strip plan. She said: “The project should be delayed until we find out the consequences of our vote on declaring an environmental emergency. If we want to do something about climate change we can’t select which projects go ahead and those that don’t.”

Rejecting the motion to delay the project until further study had been completed, Councillor Ian Coburn said: “This is not an extension to Heathrow Airport we are talking about here.”

Arguing that the air strip on Skye would bring wider benefits from people in Lochalsh, he continued: “It is the same as the Barra airfield on the beach – but on a bit of grass.

“We need to get a grip of ourselves.”