• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Bid to ring changes on phones sparks an island row

IT IS difficult to say where the feisty youngster Katie Morag would have stood on the issue of mobile phone coverage on Struay, but the issue is proving divisive on the real island where the fictional character was created.

 ISOLATED:  Visitors go to Coll for the peace and quiet, locals say, but also expect their mobile phones to work.  Picture: Phil Seale/Alamy
ISOLATED: Visitors go to Coll for the peace and quiet, locals say, but also expect their mobile phones to work. Picture: Phil Seale/Alamy

Some of the 230 residents on Coll, where children's author Mairi Hedderwick lived for many years, are anxious to enjoy, at long last, 21st century telecommunications, but other islanders want the area they think of as a Hebridean paradise to remain mobile free.

There are currently only a couple of places on Coll where a mobile phone signal can be picked up, and they come from the neighbouring island of Tiree.

But now a planning application has been lodged with Argyll and Bute Council for the erection of a 50ft mast with six antennas and two transmission dishes to finally drag the island into the modern age.

The application has come from Development Coll, the island's community development company. But as one of its directors John Fraser explained, the Scottish Government will pay for its installation as part of an initiative to provide mobile phone coverage in remote communities.

He said: "They will fund the mast, the electricity connection, the legal work, the leases etc. But Vodaphone and BT have said they will put up the gear - the transmitters, receivers and everything else."

Vodaphone had chosen the site and the landowner was giving it for £1 a year, he said.

Development Coll would be responsible for paying the associated electricity bill and the cost of inspection and maintenance. In total "worst case scenario" this would be about £2000 a year, so other bodies are being approached for support.

He said: "A prime candidate was NHS because currently the doctor has no communication whatsoever outside her house, which is totally unacceptable. She is 24/7 and when she leaves her house, she has to give the number of where she is going next. She has lived that life for 10 years. So we are getting support from the NHS."

He said his own employer, educational charity Project Trust, was also committed to supporting the running costs and the likes of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and others were being approached. There was also the potential for maritime interests to pay to use the mast.

As to those who valued the peace and quiet of the island, he said "They can always turn their phones off.

"But I have lived here for 30 years and have not heard a direct objection."

However Colin Kennedy, a farmer/crofter, said: "This whole idea of the mast has never been put to the community. As far as I am aware the community council has never examined this in depth and I know opinion is divided.

"There are some who would obviously welcome mobile reception and others who wouldn't because they value the peace of the island. Personally I could do without my mobile working here."

Pat Graham, the secretary of the community council, said that tourists assumed their mobiles would work, but Coll was different and most people came to unwind, she said.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "The aim of this project is to test an alternative model, based around community ownership of a mobile mast, to extend coverage to an area not previously seen as commercially viable by mobile operators.

"The project is currently in the planning application process and the local community on Coll will have the chance to share their views on the proposal as it progresses."

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

209431