Thirteen communities in the Highlands are poised to get cut-price petrol and diesel after the European Commission approved plans to extend a discount scheme.
The 5p-a-litre reduction is now expected to be introduced in the mainland areas in April, once the flagship Treasury project has been rubber-stamped.
The decision, announced on Thursday morning, represents a major victory for Highland MP Danny Alexander, who introduced the scheme on the islands in 2012 and pushed for its extension.
Treasury chiefs were slightly surprised that the ambitious bid was accepted by officials in Brussels, with Mr Alexander revealing in the Press and Journal last month that he only rated the chances at “50/50”.
A total of 17 mainland areas will get the discount after it is confirmed, including 13 in the north.
The Highland post codes put forward for the scheme were IV54 Strathcarron, IV26 Ullapool, IV27 Lairg, PH41 Mallaig, KW12 Halkirk, PA80 Oban, PH36 Acharacle, IV22 Achnasheen, PA38 Appin, PH23 Carrbridge, PH19 Dalwhinnie, IV21 Gairloch, IV14 Strathpeffer.
Mr Alexander, the chief secretary to the Treasury and Inverness MP, said: “This is great news for motorists in these areas and brings a duty discount a step closer. Even though fuel prices are falling across the country, they are still higher in very rural areas.
“As someone who comes from one of the most rural areas in the UK, I know that for people who live in these areas cars are a necessity, not a luxury. I’ve fought hard to reach this major milestone.
“While we have one more stage to go, I want to make sure we are ready to implement this as a top priority so we will press for this to be heard as soon as possible and are today publishing the necessary draft regulations.
“I’m determined to implement the Rural Fuel Rebate in the current parliament as part of this government’s drive for a stronger economy and fairer society.”
The discount was introduced in the islands in 2012, after special permission was secured for an exemption from EU rules on government intervention in markets.
Plans to extend the rebate to some mainland communities were thrown into turmoil at the start of the year after the Treasury was forced to re-launch a consultation because of a flood of complaints from areas of the Highlands which were not initially put forward for inclusion.
The extension has still to be ratified by the European Council, but Treasury sources believe the biggest hurdle was winning the commission’s backing.