Islanders ambush ministers to fix Jura’s only road

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Major repairs are planned for Mull, Lismore, Islay, Kilchrenan, Dalavich, Coll and Jura, where last week desperate islanders ambushed ministers to help fix its ‘dangerous’ only road.

Argyll MP Brendan O’Hara hoped to update islanders about his Islay and Jura summit with Humza Yousaf, Minister for Transport and the Islands, introducing Holyrood’s upcoming Islands Bill, on Wednesday last week. But instead a quarter of Jura’s growing population of 230 packed Craighouse Care Centre to plea for help to repair their single-track road.

Jura GP Dr Abby Beastall said: ‘Potholes are more than an inconvenience – they are now dangerous. There are several deep potholes leaving vehicles nowhere to go apart from a narrow verge and a ditch. This concerns us about road safety, far from a hospital with trauma facilities.’

Transferring a patient to the landing site was now ‘very uncomfortable and difficult’, she added, especially if they have a broken limb.

‘The Islay Fire Service response was demonstrably slower at a recent incident which gives us concern that if the (lone) Jura doctor needs back-up from the Scottish Ambulance Service based on Islay, this will also be delayed.’

Neil Gow, a volunteer fire fighter, added: ‘For me as a citizen you have to leave 10 minutes early, or risk damage to the vehicle or yourself. The emergency services cannot leave 10 minutes earlier. In an emergency, every minute counts. To be slowed by something as stupid as a lack of maintenance is unacceptable. You should not have to make a choice: do we damage the vehicle, or risk going off the road?’

The meeting was held by Argyll and Bute's MP Brendan O'Hara, MSP Michael Russell, and Scotland's Minister for Transport and the Islands Humza Yousaf.
The meeting was held by Argyll and Bute’s MP Brendan O’Hara, MSP Michael Russell, and Scotland’s Minister for Transport and the Islands Humza Yousaf.

The main haulier carrying very valuable cargo from Jura’s whisky distillery also has reservations, where incidents could close the road for days. Bottles journeying from France to Jura’s new gin distillery smashed on the final miles north to Ardlussa, where children commuting each day to school now leave at 6.55am and return by 5.25pm.

Jura’s community council chairman Donald Ewan Darroch hailed the 30-mile long island’s ‘fast expanding economy’, including ‘£45m-50m’ invested at Ardfin Estate where a new 18-hole golf course was built, and its ‘growing working population’. But he asked if the public sector was ‘capable of keeping up with the pace we are moving forward at’, given investment in infrastructure was ‘so insignificant it is embarrassing’. One householder described Jura’s A846 as ‘the worst A road in Britain’.

Argyll and Bute Council needs £198m to bring its 2,300km road network up to ‘A1 condition’, or £11m per year just up to ‘average’. In February’s budget, councillors agreed to add an extra £8m to its £6.6m road maintenance programme over two years.

Council papers reveal £360,000 will go to improving Jura’s A846 from Feolin ferry to beyond Craighouse, but one islander questioned if this was enough.

Islay receives £100,000 to upgrade the A846 from Bowmore to Port Ellen, £100,000 for the C15 to Kilchoman Distillery, £90,000 for the C12 Glen Road, and £120,000 for Avonvogie.

£2,934,700 goes to Oban, Lorn and the Isles, including £430,000 for Lismore’s roads, £150,000 for Coll’s, £300,000 for the A819, £130,350 on the B840 from Portsonachan to Cladich, £100,000 for the C29 from Kilchrenan to Dalavich, £137,000 on the A816 at Kames Fish Farm, £100,000 on the C29 at Kilmelford, £100,000 on Argyll and Combie Streets in Oban, and £45,000 at Lerags.

Half, £1,467,350, will be spent on Mull, mostly on the A849 including £350,000 from Lochdon to Glenmore, £200,000 from Bunessan to Fionnphort, £90,000 from Lochdon to Torrans Bridge, and £40,000 at Leob. The C45 Hill Road at Torloisk gets £182,350, the B8035 at Gruline £150,000, Glengorm Road £100,000 and C49 Ardtun Road £100,000.

The council report, presented to the Environment, Development and Infrastructure Committee last month, explains: ‘Around 94 per cent of Scotland’s roads are local roads e.g. council roads. Around £400m per year is spent on all roads nationally. Spending on local roads has declined by 26 per cent in real terms over the past five years.’

A spokesperson told The Oban Times: ‘We want good quality roads for Argyll and Bute. That’s why, despite a difficult financial position, the council is increasing the roads budget for the next two years alone to £16 million.

‘It’s also why senior council officers attended the Islay and Jura Infrastructure Summit to discuss collectively the transport challenges facing the islands’ economic development. Officers were unaware of the meeting on Jura prior to the Islay Summit and had not been invited to attend.

‘We will do all we as a council can do. We have allocated just over £866k of capital to invest in Islay and Jura roads. We will carry out additional repairs when required, we are working to address risks to road conditions from new developments, and we will respond to safety defects reported to us by the public.  With this approach we have become one of the fastest improving road authorities.

‘Maintaining roads to the standard we all want is beyond the financial means of any one council. The summit was a good opportunity to foster goodwill for joint working in building our transport networks.’