£6.6M Rest plan best route, for now

The Oban Times - - Front Page - LOUISE GLEN lglen@oban­times.co.uk

THE TRANS­PORT min­is­ter has said that no cred­i­ble per­ma­nent so­lu­tion for the A83 Rest and Be Thank­ful had been found to date.

MSP Derek Mackay, cab­i­net min­is­ter for trans­port, said the £6.6 mil­lion in­vest­ment an­nounced on Mon­day is the cor­rect course of ac­tion on the in­for­ma­tion ex­perts have given him to make the main route into Ar­gyll se­cure and sus­tain­able.

Mr Mackay said he was will­ing to lis­ten to any­one who be­lieves they have found the per­ma­nent so­lu­tion – in the mean­time mean­ing­ful progress is be­ing made. Speak­ing ex­clu­sively to The

Oban Times af­ter the Mon­day morn­ing an­nounce­ment, Mr Mackay said he was tak­ing a ‘ra­tio­nal, re­spon­si­ble ap­proach’ to on­go­ing con­cerns about the land­slip-prone area hav­ing asked the peo­ple of Ar­gyll and Bute what the long-term so­lu­tion for the route was. He said ‘noone can come up with a risk-free so­lu­tion’.

‘Any­thing other than this would be a waste of tax pay­ers money,’ he con­tin­ued.

‘If there is some so­lu­tion we are miss­ing that would make the en­tire area safe then we will look at it im­me­di­ately. We have looked at all the ideas that have been brought be­fore us un­til now and we will con­tinue do­ing that.

‘In the mean­time we need to make sure we are do­ing what we know works.’

Mr Mackay said the lat­est in­ci­dent at the end of De­cem­ber where a woman was al­most killed when her car was caught up in a land­slip was ‘ex­cep­tional’, and that the track record was that there were fewer clo­sures due to the net­ting. He added: ‘ We need a con­ti­nu­ity of ac­cess and the new net­ting so­lu­tions will take us nearer to that.’

Mr Mackay ad­mit­ted that com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the pub­lic had not al­ways been as im­me­di­ate as he would have liked and that al­ter­na­tive routes were tak­ing too long to open up.

‘We need to get the mes­sage out there that Ar­gyll is not closed but is ‘open for busi­ness’.

‘The Old Mil­i­tary Road needs to open as soon as prob­lems hap­pen on the other route. We can­not have a 24-hour de­lay in it open­ing. De­ci­sions have to be made promptly and safely. Ev­ery­thing we do has to be about pub­lic safety.’

Mr Mackay said fur­ther multi-mil­lion pound in­vest­ment in the al­ter­na­tive route, via Loch Lomond, at Pul­pit Rock and the Cri­an­larich by­pass, ‘have been well re­ceived’.

When dis­cussing a plan for a pas­sage through the most land­slip prone area – a 300- 400-me­tre sec­tion of the Rest and Be Thank­ful – put for­ward by lo­cal hote­lier Don­ald Clark, Mr Mackay said this plan would not cover the en­tire area need­ing pro­tec­tion.

‘If it was the right thing to do then we would do it. But it does not solve all the prob­lems we have in the area.’

Mr Mackay dis­missed claims about a cen­tral-belt bias in fund­ing and ap­prov­ing roads and trans­port projects.

‘When I go to the con­trol room at Trans­port Scot­land the sit­u­a­tion in Ar­gyll is al­ways on the agenda,’ he said.

‘What is hap­pen­ing any­where in the coun­try is of im­por­tance to me. Let me be clear, we want our roads mov­ing in Scot­land and I think that any­one who was at the task­force meet­ing on Mon­day will agree, that this route is re­ceiv­ing our at­ten­tion as it would if it were in Glas­gow, Ed­in­burgh or any­where in Scot­land. The plain fact is that there are no easy an­swers.

‘On Mon­day there was an op­por­tu­nity for the mem­bers of the task­force to re­ject the money but ev­ery­one around the ta­ble agreed the in­vest­ment.’

Ar­gyll and Bute Coun­cil’s pol­icy leader for roads, Coun­cil­lor Ellen Mor­ton, said: ‘Be­ing pre­pared to re­spond to bad weather is one thing but tak­ing ac­tion which will en­sure per­ma­nent ac­cess is clearly the best long-term goal. We are com­mit­ted to do­ing all we can as a lo­cal au­thor­ity, but only the Scot­tish Govern­ment can de­liver a per­ma­nent so­lu­tion.

‘We are pleased that we con­tinue to have th­ese pos­i­tive strate­gic meet­ings and work with our part­ners at na­tional govern­ment level and on the A83 task­force to move this for­ward.’ A83 cam­paigner Don­ald Clark, from the Ge­orge Ho­tel in In­ver­aray, said: ‘I have con­sis­tently ar­gued that a sim­ple, safe, open-sided flow- over canopy (closed outer edge at the top three gul­lies) could be eas­ily cut into the hill­sides to give a four-me­tre wide sin­gle car­riage­way re­lief road ac­ti­vated at high land­slide alert times.

‘Th­ese three dan­ger­ous gul­lies are on a 300m sec­tion of the Rest and Be Thank­ful. Trans­port Scot­land has ruled this out on a cost ba­sis. It has pro­duced an overly com­pli­cated de­sign stretch­ing to 1.2km at a cost be­tween £105 and £120m.

‘If the Dawlish seawall and twin main­line rail­way tracks can be com­pletely re­built at a cost of £ 35 mil­lion in eight weeks then Trans­port Scot­land has got its de­sign and cost­ings se­ri­ously wrong.’

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