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FORSYTH HERALDS BENEFITS OF NEW SKYE BRIDGE

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The privately financed Skye bridge will provide improved and more reliable access to Skye and the outer Isles a gen...
The privately financed Skye bridge will provide improved and more reliable access to Skye and the outer Isles a generation earlier than might otherwise have been possible, Scottish secretary Michael Forsyth said today.

Mr Forsyth said the bridge will eliminate the ferry queues which hinder tourism. He added that its reliability had also already been demonstrated by the unscheduled crossings a few weeks ago of an ambulance and a lorry carrying Scottish fish bound for Paris, both of which had been stranded by a faulty ferry.

The secretary of state added that private finance had brought Skye a new bridge long before the public roads programme could have done, and that islanders and visitors will reap the benefits of a road crossing while paying on average no more than they did for the ferry service.

Mr Forsyth highlighted the following benefits of the bridge:

'This project will come to symbolise the growing vitality of this region, boost its economy and be an aesthetic attraction for many generations to come. Above all, this bridge is good for tourism, not just in Skye but also in the outer Isles.

'The remoteness and wildness of much of Scotland has always been a magnet to visitors. Waiting in a long ferry queue is not part of the attraction. This bridge will eliminate such queues.

'The value of the bridge has already been demonstrated. A few weeks ago a faulty ferry threatened to leave a 10-tonne lorry of fish from South Uist stranded on the wrong side of Kyle. A unscheduled 'preview' crossing of the new bridge saved a connection to Paris and at least £20,000. And it is not only livelihoods, but also lives which matter to us. I was pleased to hear that an ambulance and a police car were able to cross the bridge at the same time.'

Mr Forsyth also emphasised its innovative method of construction:

'This bridge - one of the world's longest span balanced cantilever bridges - is more than just a link between Skye and the mainland, important though that is. It is also a bridge between the public and private sectors, the first great achievement of the partnership between public infrastructure projects and private finance.

'Highland Regional Council has pioneered a completely a new method of constructing and funding a major public asset. Other local authorities will be watching this development with interest, as a demonstration of the enormous scope which the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) affords them to undertake projects which would otherwise be beyond their means.

'What the PFI has accomplished on Skye is the fulfilment of a 60-year-old ambition. The first scheme for a Skye bridge was put forward as long ago as 1938. Even today, the bridge would have had to be deferred until some time in the next century if it had relied on public funding.

'The bridge tolls have been criticised, but they have been harmonised as far as possible with the ferry fares, nor will they rise above the Retail Price Index. More importantly, unlike ferry fares, they will eventually disappear - probably in about 14-18 years time.

'Today the people of Skye have acquired a highly significant asset, made available to them a generation earlier than would otherwise would have been possible. This means that the benefits of increased tourism, commercial access and the accompanying economic boost have been brought forward by many years.'

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