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Highlands and Islands Airports (Car Parking Charges)

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:19 pm on 24th February 2010.

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Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative 5:19 pm, 24th February 2010

The member has said enough.

I very much welcome the debate, and acknowledge the commitment and persistence of Liam McArthur in vigorously opposing the introduction of car parking charges at Kirkwall airport. The consultation process—which is, I hope, under way—will bring transparency and fairness to the options surrounding the introduction or otherwise of charges. However, rather than just having a narrow remit, the consultation should emphasise the impact on tourism and the effect that reduced travel numbers could have on the sustainability of HIAL airports in the longer term.

As the motion states, air travel is a lifeline service to and from the mainland for people who live on remote islands, although it costs more to cross the Pentland Firth than it does to cross the Atlantic. Whether it is to access health care, to work, to study, to visit family or simply to get off the island, there is no doubt about the importance of air links to island communities. If car parking charges at airports such as Kirkwall, Sumburgh and Stornoway were put in place, my worry is that many island residents would be discouraged from using the service, which could pose a risk to the viability of those and other smaller and more remote airports.

The impact on tourism is another issue that should be taken into account in the consultation. If passengers were discouraged from using air travel, it would reduce tourism and have an impact on business, and it could affect the sustainability of the air links. There is no doubt that parking charges could have an effect on the number of people who use air travel and could, ultimately, have a financial impact on businesses in island communities. Although additional revenues are generated from the car parking charges that exist in all major airports throughout Scotland, such charges can discourage thousands of air passengers from taking their cars and contributing to the carbon footprint. However, as Alasdair Allan said, there are other means of transport from cities to airports. Inverness has a regular shuttle-bus transfer and taxis at competitive prices. All being well—our transport minister is here to hear me say this—a train station at Dalcross will open in 2016. There are alternative ways of getting to Inverness airport.

Another issue is the price of petrol and diesel, which has been steadily increasing on the islands in recent years. I am sure that many islanders would welcome a more reliable public transport system but, unfortunately, that does not exist. As Liam McArthur said, car parking charges have always existed at Inverness airport. Since 2003, the car park has been managed by HIAL. Prior to that, it was managed by National Car Parks. The upgrading of the facilities and the introduction of a long-stay car park have expanded the opportunities for Inverness and the long-term plans for the business park.

Inverness airport operates a significantly greater number of flights than airports on Shetland, on Orkney and on the Western Isles, and pulls a huge volume of people from across the Highlands from places as far flung as Ullapool, Fort William, Durness and Wick. However, with the shuttle bus in operation between the city centre and the retail park, and buses to Nairn, Forres and Elgin, the public transport connections are much better at Inverness airport.

I acknowledge that, as Liam McArthur mentioned, HIAL faces financial difficulty. There is no doubt that the Government's reduction in its budget of £1.1 million has exacerbated that financial difficulty, but car parking charges or, indeed, higher taxes on air travel, might mean that fewer people will be able to afford to travel by air, which means that services will be lost and the sustainability of fragile communities will be adversely affected.

For all those reasons, I support the motion. I should scroll through all the motions because there may be many more that I should support. I am pleased that Liam McArthur has raised this issue, and I am happy to support the motion in his name.