HEBRIDEAN islanders have accused their local council of imposing a £9-a-day all-year-round parking 'poll tax'.

Businees and community leaders on tiny and historic Iona say new charges at ferry port of Fionnphort on Mull mean they will pay nearly as much as London's congestion charge.

Many islanders and almost all visitors leave their cars at Fionnphort before taking the 10-minute crossing on Calmac over the Sound of Iona. Forty-year-old local laws restrict motorists' access to the island itself.

So the local community council believes year-round parking charges at the ferry port will undermine their economy and are firmly blaming Council leader Aileen Morton, a Liberal Democrat, for imposing the charges without even consulting.

Ms Morton's coalition administration was unavailable for comment on Easter Monday but has long argued it has been forced to hike parking and other charges, including elsewhere on Mull,  because it does not get enough money from the Scottish Government

READ MORE: Anger that 800% parking increase could deter visitors from Scotland's most climbed hill

Shiona Ruhemann, Convenor of Iona Community Council, said: “Iona must be one of the most industrious little places in Scotland, with local people working hard every day – many of them with multiple jobs - to give visitors the best possible island experience and hospitality.”

“Now, without even consulting people on this island before charging ahead with their Traffic Regulation Order, Argyll and Bute Council wants to come blundering in with an ill-thought out scheme that wholly undermines those efforts, threatening our local economy for zero benefit.

“For Mull and Iona residents, we’ll face the same extravagant charges at our lifeline service at Craignure on Mull, which penalises islanders making essential trips to Oban and elsewhere on the mainland, which take a minimum of several hours and often days. The administrative costs of introducing this ‘Iona poll tax’ will result in little income to the Council, but cause huge financial damage to individual islanders and island communities – this is senseless.

“Part of Iona’s peaceful charm is that visitors aren’t permitted to bring cars onto the island, so these parking charges will affect our visitors unfairly, just as they will islanders heading to the mainland for a hospital appointment.

“The Council has already imposed money-spinning charges in all the areas closest to the piers – all that we are asking is that we retain the last remaining free longer-term parking that is vital to the flow of island life, and to the visitors on which our economy depends.

“To add insult to injury, the Council is suggesting people should pay for the parking online, despite there being no internet coverage and hardly any mobile phone signal around the car park in Fionnphort or on Iona. We wonder if the Leader of the council has ever even been here. Perhaps she should visit this island to see for herself before considering inflicting such harm."

The community council claims fees are more expensive than some Edinburgh city centre parking permits, and nearly as expensive as London’s congestion charge. It is now writing to the Competition and Markets Authority and the Scottish Parliament Petitions Committee to ask them to investigate what it called Argyll & Bute Council’s "clumsy" move to create parking monopolies at the island’s lifeline ferry ports.

HeraldScotland:

CalMac's Isle of Mull, at Craignure

A charge, also £9 a day, at Craignure, the ferry port which links Mull with Oban on the mainland sparked real anger last year.  This, said islanders, was an extra bill for anybody from Mull or Iona crpossingg to Oban for hospital or dental appointments. 

READ MORE: Welcome to Mull… please drive carefully and just don’t annoy us

Mull has seen a dramatic rise in car use over recent years as the Hebrides enjoy global publicity and the Scottish Government's cheaper ferry policy encouirages more traffic. So have other islands - but they have avoided extra ferry port car parking charges. 

Ms Ruhemann added: “This is a postcode lottery. Residents of Highland Council can trust their local authority to understand its car parks and its communities before it launches into rash action, and Highland Council and its counterpart in the Western Isles (Comhairle nan Eilean Siar) don’t charge for long-stay parking at ferry ports like Mallaig and Stornoway and – unlike our Council – don’t shoot its fragile island economies in the foot.”

Mhairi Killin, who runs Iona jewellery business, Aosdàna, said: “We already work hard to overcome the challenges of being an island off an island, challenges that Argyll & Bute Council must surely be aware of given how consistently it fails to deliver its own basic service commitments. “We have repeatedly made ourselves available, taking valuable time away from our businesses in doing so, and unlike those proposing these charges we do not get paid regardless of the outcome. Our livelihoods and those of our employees are totally dependent on delivering a first class product, each and every day.”

HeraldScotland:

Iona Abbey

Michael Gordon of Iona Craft Shop said: “Iona is place of special significance, with people travelling from all over the world to experience the island’s unique beauty and sense of calm. Our centuries old visitor economy is now being pushed towards the edge by a blinkered council that has no sense of where we are and what we need to survive and prosper. These proposals must be scrapped."

Nobody was available from Argyll and Bute Council to counter criticism. Last year, the authority said it was facing "year on year cuts to our funding" when iut raised parking fees at Arrochar.  It added: "Like all councils, we must make changes to how we work. We have kept charges to a minimum for as long as possible."

HeraldScotland:

Passengers board Iona ferry