IT has been known as Scotland's centre of Christian forgiveness since the 6th century, ever since St Columba arrived on a mission to spread the gospels among the heathen tribes of Scotland.

But in recent months there has been little charity to be found between the local authority and residents of Iona, after a bitter dispute broke out over plans to bring in parking charges as expensive as those in some of the country's biggest cities.

Psalms were put aside for legal salvos as islanders warned the £9-a-day levy could cost them hundreds of pounds each year, and take a sledgehammer to the island's finely-balanced economy.

And now Argyll and Bute Council has issued a grovelling apology after apparently seeing the light, although the Iona residents believe the climbdown has more to do with the robustness of their case.

The Herald:

The ferry docks at Craignure on Mull

The backlash came after council leader Aileen Morton's moved to introduce the parking levy at the port of Fionnphort on Mull, which has the only ferry connection to Iona.

Visitor vehicles have been banned from Iona since 1978 in an effort to preserve the island, which still hosts a faith community at its famous abbey.

The council's parking planned charge was more expensive than some Edinburgh city centre parking permits, and not that far off London's £11.50-a-day congestion charge.

READ MORE: Iona revolts after council imposes £9-a-day parking poll tax

Shiona Ruhemann, Convenor of Mull and Iona Community Council, said that no thought had been put into how the charge would affect people living on the island or those who work there during the day and leave their cars behind.

She said: "This was a blanket attempt to impose big city charges into a situation where it just would not work.

"The process was completely flawed and there was no real or meaningful consultation with people on Iona, which there has to be by law before this type of charge is introduced. Iona is an island off and island and this would have taken a wrecking ball to our economy.

"Visitors coming to see islanders, teachers who work in the primary school and even the ferry workers who maintain the lifeline service between Fionnphort on Mull and Iona would have been left with bills of hundreds of pounds a year."

The Herald:

Iona Abbey

The Community Council turned to the Govan Law Centre to mount their legal challenge, and Ms Ruhemann said that their case had been airtight.

She said: "It has been surreal. We have found ourselves turning to lawyers to protect ourselves from our own council and the people who are supposed to represent us.

"I hope that lessons are learned and we can rebuild trust by finding out how on earth this happened and by making sure that it does not happen again."

A report will go to next week’s Oban, Lorn and the Isles (OLI) Area Committee recommending that the disputed traffic regulation order (TRO) which imposed the charge be revoked, and also that ways are identified of improving the council’s engagement with communities around similar issues.

READ MORE: Islanders ‘gagged’ at debate as ferry car park charges approved​

Announcing the U-0turn, Argyll and Bute Council Chief Executive Cleland Sneddon, said: “Concerns had been raised with the council, by local people, about the need for better managed and safer parking, issues which had to be addressed. To do so a TRO was required.

"We have to apologise unreservedly to the people of Mull and Iona, however, for a flawed exercise – with our biggest regret being the negative impact this has had on relationships between residents of Mull and Iona, and the council.

"We want to work with as well as for local people. We had carried out a consultation exercise. The exercise though was not as robust as it should have been, it should have covered Iona as well as Mull."

He added: "The report also includes a key recommendation that we find ways to improve how we engage with our communities around TROs. Improved engagement will ensure that the differing needs of Mull and Iona are identified, and that we work better together in addressing them.

"We can assure residents that we have learned lessons from this, and that we remain committed to working with our communities to deliver parking arrangements that work for the residents and visitors of Mull and Iona.”

The Herald:

The report will be published on the council’s website overnight  from 4th September, along with other reports for consideration by the OLI Committee.

Argyll and Bute's Oban North and Lorn Councillor Julie McKenzie, who voted against imposing the TRO, said: "I'm delighted to see this turnaround, because that is what it is.

READ MORE: CalMac hits out at council after ferry in ‘near-miss’at ‘too dark’ pier​

"This parking charge should never have happened. The people of Mull and Iona have to be congratulated in bringing this forward in the way that they have.

"They highlighted the flaws in the scheme which showed it had just not been thought through, and I hope this heralds a new dawn in the council deals with communities by listening to them rather than imposing policies from the top down."