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Councillors have been warned that if any signs of community disharmony surface over the final report into options for a possible bridge or tunnel to replace the existing Corran Ferry, the project could be put at risk.
That was a concern from Highland Council transport planning manager Richard Gerring at Thursday’s Lochaber Area Committee meeting.
The deadline is looming for the final report to be considered for inclusion in the Strategic Transport Projects Review (STPR2) and the fear is that if the deadline were missed, for whatever reason, the project might not get a chance to be considered for possibly another 20 years.
The study aims to establish whether a fixed link across the Corran Narrows can feasibly be delivered at an acceptable cost when compared to a ferry-based solution.
Members heard that, while at this stage there is no statutory obligation to notify potential neighbours, 178 properties had been identified, with 175 able to be sent notification about the report coming before the meeting.
Mr Gerring added: ‘That left 175 properties notified, from which I got one email from one person who had received the letter.’
Lochaber councillors agreed the consultants’ report needs to be pressed on with without any time being wasted or it faces the very real danger of missing the deadline for inclusion in the next 20-year cycle of major public infrastructure projects in Scotland.
On the issue of public consultation over the options, committee chairman, Allan Henderson, admitted the time frame to pull all the required information together to get the project submitted for inclusion in the STRP was very short.
‘If we don’t get this into STPR it could well be 20 or even 30 years before we had another chance,’ he cautioned.
Consultants have identified five potential fix point crossings – three bridge sites and one tunnel location. Mr Gerring said some of the factors to be taken into account included the fact the Corran Narrows were an active shipping lane and had a fast-flowing tidal range.
On a possible tunnel, he said the good news was that there was not any kind of ‘showstopper ‘of a problem in terms of guidance over a fixed link.
If a low-level crossing was chosen, it would need to be able to open to allow vessels to pass. A high-level bridge would mean the approaches being set further back, giving possible rise to land ownership and cost issues.
Councillors heard there had been no time for fresh community engagement on the options, with the consultants relying on previous engagements and reports.
But Mr Gerring warned: ‘If we get to the next stage, I have to flag up my concern that if there is any disharmony in the community over wanting this infrastructure, then that brings a risk to the project.
‘So I’m hoping when the final report comes into the public domain, we will be able to gather more evidence of the community lending its support.’
Councillors agreed the final consultants’ report should be submitted to Transport Scotland at the earliest opportunity.