16 October 1995: The toll bridge to Skye opens

A new bridge connecting the Isle of Skye to the Scottish mainland opened on this day in 1995, but the toll soon became a bone of contention.

Skye Bridge © Chris Furlong/Getty Images
Skye bridge: tolls were scrapped in 2004
(Image credit: © Chris Furlong/Getty Images)

In 1989, the British government decided to commission a bridge to connect the Scottish mainland to the Isle of Skye. There was already a ferry service, of course, but the island was popular with tourists and many islanders commuted to the mainland. A bridge seemed a good idea.

But to pay for it, the government decided on the controversial Private Finance Initiative. This allows for a private consortium to pay for the construction and then collect the tolls for 17 years. The new bridge would eventually open in October 1995.

The problem was that the deal gave the company a free hand over the level of the tolls and their application. With the alternative ferry service closing down almost immediately, the toll operators imposed a charge of £5.40. Residents, who had previously been allowed to travel on the ferry for nothing, were angry.

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The government tried to assuage their anger by paying subsidies to the toll operators to keep fees down. However, while these extra payments would eventually total £7m, the fees paid by bridge users continued to rise, reaching £11.40 by 2004.

Residents then decided to take matters into their own hands, launching a non-payment campaign. In all, 130 people would end up with criminal records as a result of their protests; the organiser even served time in jail. But as a result of the protests the government eventually bought the rights to the tolls for £27m from the operators (which included Bank of America). It then abolished the fee.

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

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