The reason triggering my scribbles about some problems on Islay was an article I came across yesterday, which was spot on about some urgent issues on Islay. It's written by Lesley Riddoch and published in the online Scotsman. The title of the article is "Whisky leaves a bitter taste for Islay". So, what is wrong with Islay? Nothing I hear most of you say and on the surface, no not the road surface, all looks fine and dandy. But just as any place in the world Islay has its problems. The main problem Islay has is Infrastructure such as roads, ferries and broadband as well as housing. These problems cause anger and discontent amongst locals and sometimes also tourists, although the latter group only have to deal with them for a short period of time. The roads, most of them at least, are in a terrible state and need very urgent repairs. These roads were never built for the amount of heavy distillery lorries on Islay. Millions are needed but less and less money is spent on roads due to shrinking council budgets. A failing and crumbling infrastructure is a bad thing and has a huge impact on the economy and daily life of the islanders and its businesses.
The ferry service is adequate at best, most of the times, and inadequate some of the times, like the single ferry service in the run up to Easter. It's adequate when there are 5 to 6 sailings a day but that's far from ideal. Why not have a sailing from Islay at 5am for early travellers and freight? And one from Kennacraig at 7 or 8 pm? That schedule gives you a day in Glasgow for a hospital appointment or shopping and more options to catch an early plane in Glasgow or an onwards connection elsewhere. With such a schedule it's also easy to include an extra sailing when demand rises in busy periods. Do the maths and you'll see that it works! Continue reading...
Housing is another major issue. There are hardly any houses for sale and those that are for sale are either very expensive or immediately purchased by businesses who need accommodation for their staff. The result? It's almost impossible to find a house on Islay, any house, as there is hardly enough social housing or any other reasonably priced homes as private let or for sale. And if there are any they likely end up on the holiday market as Self Catering accommodation turning villages dark in the winter time.
Don't worry, Islay is a 5 Star Destination
Now why this rant you might wonder, shouldn't I myself be amongst those to promote Islay as a 5 star Tourist Destination? Yep, you are right, but I do feel ashamed when I promote the island when the roads are in such a horrible state that they can damage your car. And I also feel bad when visitors have to cancel their holiday because Calmac is cancelling ferries before Easter. That's not right and it's certainly not in line with the new contract Calmac won in which they promised to do better.
A lack of control by the locals
Going back to the Scotsman article I mentioned earlier, Lesley writes: "Whisky-related development hasn’t boosted the island’s population but it has put a massive strain on Islay’s creaking transport infrastructure. So is it time for islanders to establish a fund extracting some community benefit from the amber fluid in the same way Shetland took big cash from the oil industry to mitigate its impact on island life?"
Lesley continues to mention that a lack of control by the locals on what's happening on Islay is extremely frustrating as it's Argyll and Bute that's deciding what will, and more often won't happen. Lesley: "Anywhere else on mainland Europe, an island like Islay would have its own municipal council calling the shots, deciding on planning permission, setting and collecting rents and rates and tackling threats to island stability like Argyll and Bute’s proposed closure of the island’s only old folks’ home. Anywhere else too, near total control over land, land use and community development by a couple of large landed estates would also be a thing of the feudal past. On Islay though, islanders must service the ambitious plans of millionaires like Australian hedge-fund manager Greg Coffey, transforming his estate on neighbouring Jura into a luxury and exclusive golfer’s paradise. No-one dares question these wealthy men – or criticise public agencies like CalMac too openly." As someone who has worked in local government myself I cannot agree more with Lesley. It's time for a change.
Although I agree with a lot of things Lesley writes, I don't share her opinion about Islay being good for tourists and bad for locals. As a local myself I can say that Islay is a fabulous place to live and work in. But it is worrying to witness the crumbling infrastructure and services knowing that the council will further reduce their budget over the next years. One wonders where it's all leading to!