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I apologise that I cannot stay to the end of the debate because of another engagement, but I thank Liam McArthur for bringing the matter to the Parliament.
I realise that the arguments that could be marshalled against the principle of free parking, let alone free parking at an airport, are legion—pace the Scottish Green Party. Doubtless, some people will see special pleading at work in this debate, but I do not. I should declare an interest as someone whose decrepit car presently sits for three days a week rusting further outside Stornoway airport, but the issue is particularly significant to island communities, therefore I welcome the opportunity to discuss it.
As Liam McArthur said, a number of factors make the island airports different. First, they are not primarily used by tourists. Yes, some islanders leave their cars at the airport when they are on holiday, but my understanding is that the overwhelming majority of people who leave their cars at Stornoway airport do so because they have to travel off island with work or, in a large number of cases, they are going to hospital or visiting someone in hospital.
As the airports provide lifeline services that are essential for the islands to function as modern economies, another special factor is worth bearing in mind: the money that many islanders have to pay to get to the mainland unless they book many weeks in advance is the kind of money with which one could have a foreign holiday. For that reason, the threat to introduce car parking charges at island airports has a knock-on effect on economic development in the islands.
I recognise the harsh realities under which HIAL operates and the constraints that are upon it, like the rest of the country. I also recognise its willingness to consider, in many cases, the option of paying for better bus services to its airports to connect with flights. However, I would be lying if I said that a bus between Stornoway and Stornoway airport would be likely to tempt me out of my car unless it could be shown that there was a convincing way of getting the 8 miles from my house to Stornoway by public transport in time to connect with that bus.
I live relatively close to an airport, but the situation for many other islanders—who live further afield and have two or three buses a day to choose from—is unpromising. Alternatively, if the proposal is that I should drive to town and then get the bus from town to the airport, I hope that a new park and ride-sized car park is being built somewhere in Stornoway to facilitate that.
Those are the realities of transport in all island communities. For all those reasons, although I recognise the difficulties that HIAL faces, I share Liam McArthur's hope that consultation on the matter will be genuine and far reaching and that the issues that I and others have mentioned will be to the fore in HIAL's mind. I hope that the daily challenges that islanders face—whether they be in Orkney, Shetland or the Western Isles—are acknowledged. I have made my own views on the matter known to HIAL, as have other island members.
I thank Liam McArthur again for bringing the matter to the Parliament and trust that other islanders will now engage actively with the consultation and make their views known.